BWW Review: Cute & Charming DIXIE SWIM CLUB is Bubbly Fun
Comedies about Southern women talking are a dime a dozen. Most audiences cling to Robert Harling's STEEL MAGNOLIAS, imbued with healthy doses of both comedy and drama, as the quintessential Southern women play. However, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten's DIXIE SWIM CLUB may start giving Robert Harling some competition.
This popular 2007 play introduces audiences to a group of five women who met on their college swim team. Following graduation from college, they rent the same beach house on North Carolina's Outer Banks for the same August weekend every year. These weekends are free from work, men, children, and all about spending time together. Depending on the love and camaraderie of friendship, these women help each other deal with the ups and downs of their lives. A majority of the play is light hearted and frivolous fun, making light of serious situations such as serial divorces and having incarcerated children. However, in the second act things become momentarily more serious as a weekend ruined by a hurricane is also marred by the news of cancer.
Rachel Anne Mattox, as director, has perfectly cast the charming show and done an amazing job ensuring that her cast works cohesively as an ensemble. No one woman outshines the others, creating a rich and realistic dynamic of friendship for the stage. Moreover, the chemistry between her cast is tangible and impressive. The only flaw in the direction is that the cast does not always pause for laughter. As the audience gleefully rolls in the aisles, some lines are missed.
Nora Hahn's Sheree is compulsively controlling, which her friends poke fun of but really enjoy. After all, it is well known that her organization brings them to the beach once a year. Furthermore, Nora Hahn plays the role with great comedic timing.
Lexie, played by Jan E. Potts, is always announcing another divorce and more plastic surgery. She is perfectly aware of her character's giddy silliness and pristinely plays it for the audience's enjoyment. Jan E. Potts makes us laugh with ease, and moves us in the tender and touching final moments of Act II's first scene.
Mary Westbrook brings Dinah, the strong lawyer, to sparkling life. She is confidant, motivated, and enjoys the company of her vodka. Without making her a caricature of a drunk, Mary Westbrook creates a believable lush that cares deeply about each of her close friends.
Vernadette is skillfully played by Agatha Raleigh. She utilizes physical comedy and the comedic absurdity of her various injuries and bad luck over the years as a springboard to making the audience howl with laughter. Mix in the indomitable and wholly pleasing Southern African-American spirit and attitude, and Agatha Raleigh is simply radiant and hilarious.
Susan Bray adeptly plays ex-nun Jeri Neal. Freed from the convent, she is exploring her sexuality later in life than the other women and hysterically makes up for lost time.
Steve Carpentier and John Stevens have designed gorgeous set for the play. The entire cast and crew did an excellent job constructing and painting the stunning set. Likewise, Xandra Homes and Jan E. Potts' Scenic Art brings the beautiful piece to dazzling life; for example, the painted backdrop outside the sliding glass door and window really looks like the beaches of North Carolina's Outer Banks. The set is painted to perfection and decorated with a detailed eye, creating a piece that truly looks like the interior of a beach house. Also, the ceiling fan that actually works is an inspired detail that makes the set all the more realistic.
Costume Design by Deborah Blake and Elaine Steinbach captures the characters individual personality traits, economic status, and the varied time periods with skilful precision. No piece looks out of place, and every costume is entirely appropriate for the character and the scene.
Props Master, Matthieu Lehmann deserves kudos for accumulating the perfect collection of items for props. From the delightfully 80's dishes, plastic glassware, and even the 90's cell phone really help the audience to place the scenes in the appropriate eras.
Adam Richardson's Lighting Design is simplistic and effective. He uses colors well to indicate time of day and keeps the cast in realistic lighting. His flashes of strobes outside the glass doors and window expertly mimic lightning and his blue wash and dimmed lights for when the power goes out looks great too.
Sound Design adds a nice level of realism as well. The sounds of waves crashing on the beach when the sliding glass door is opened works well and is mixed at the perfect volume so as not to interfere with the dialogue being delivered.
Make-up and Wig Design is also a strong part of the show. Each wig looks great and helps age the actresses as they journey from 44 to 77 over the course of the play. The one mishap here is the age makeup on Agatha Raleigh's Vernadette in the final scene. Around her jowls it looks as though there is a silicone application that won't stay down, which is distracting. I would think darkening the lines on the actress' face would be enough for the aging effect.
The Country Playhouse's production of the cute, bubbly, and amiable DIXIE SWIM CLUB is a fun and funny night out at the theater. There is not a lot of depth to the show, but it will warm hearts and make audiences laugh from beginning to end.
DIXIE SWIM CLUB runs on the Cerwinske Stage at the Country Playhouse through March 23, 2013. For more information and tickets, visit http://countryplayhouse.org or call (713) 467 - 4497.Photo courtesy of Country Playhouse.
L to R: Mary Westbrook as Dinah, Jan E. Potts as Lexie, Agatha Raleigh as Vernadette, Susan Bray as Jeri Neal & Nora Hahn as Sheree