BWW Reviews: Dutch Apple Scores With Their DIXIE SWIM CLUB
DIXIE SWIM CLUB is the best-known of a host of Southern-fried theatre by Jones Hope Wooten (not a Southern-fried name but a conglomeration of three authors' last names). It's also popularly, among theatre insiders, summarized as "STEEL MAGNOLIAS at the beach." It's meant to be dismissive, as the show is highly derivative - a group of several strong Southern women followed over a period of time, in a small setting, highlighting the highs and lows of their lives and their friendships. Most of the time, it really does feel like the little near-twin sister of the older, sturdier play.
In the hands of Paul Bernier at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, it's amazingly, and quite positively, become something far different and far more, without changing a word of the script. It's a tour de force aided by a particularly well-chosen cast. Even in her drollest moments, posse leader Sherree (Jennifer Hope), the former swim team captain, is dry as dust (possibly as dry as her health-food snacks that no one else likes). Kelly Legaretta's Vernadette is thoroughly comic, even in her worst moments, and those are many - whatever your problems are, don't worry that they're as bad as hers, because you will not win. Lisa Coday's Dinah seems far more lawyerly than most of those who play the part, more businesslike, less social. Allison Rose Munn is a fine Jeri Neal, seeking her way out of the convent and trying to navigate the outside world as a middle-aged woman. Kira Gallindo plays Lexie, the much-married socialite, with a palpable fear of the horrors of aging.
When, oh when, is Vernadette at her best? When she's on crutches? When she's expounding on her son's issues in the first act? In the infamous biscuit defense in the third act? Vernadette's ode to the Southern biscuit is not only one of the great women's monologues in modern comedy but enough to make most audience members start looking for butter and honey. Legaretta has nailed what's by far the most delightful character in the show.
Particularly to Bernier's credit is that this production isn't meek. There's an argument in the first act that's usually handled with catty humor and a general air of uncertainty of just how sharp everyone's claws should be. In Bernier's hands, it's closer to the fight in the all-male THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, and that's not a bad thing at all. In fact, it's a distinct pleasure. One of the problems the show usually has is the light handling of everything thrown at the five former swim team members, including from each other; the comedy is greater, in the comic parts, when it's clear that these women are capable of drawing each other's blood.
This DIXIE SWIM CLUB isn't an offhand diversion. It's a production with something to think about, and some performances to relish, especially as the women age over the twenty-plus-year span of the show. It's one that's as easy for the men in the audience to appreciate as it is for the women, which often isn't the case; Bernier's taken it outside of a small all-women comedy and forced its universality to the surface. It's a different take, and a really successful one.
At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through March 21. Call 717-898-1900 or visit dutchapple.com for tickets and information.