‘The Dixie Swim Club’ by Jessie Jones, Jamie Wooten, Nicholas Hope
Review by Joe Szekeres
‘The Dixie Swim Club’ is a comic and poignant story of five Southern women whose friendship began many years ago on their college swim team. Every August, the ladies set aside a long weekend to recharge their relationships and friendships. Sheree, Lexie, Dinah, Vernadette and Jeri-Neil are free from husbands, kids, jobs and occupations; they meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to catch up, to laugh and to meddle in each other’s lives for over thirty-three years in the course of the story.
Personally, the excitement of attending opening night for any community theatre is most appropriate and tonight was no exception. I was especially looking forward to this production. Why? Along with two talented veteran local performers (Raissa Chernushenko and Nancy Gleed) whose work I’ve seen, there are three welcome, new faces onstage - Sophie Dajka, Kelley Dewey and Sharon Morari.
A tremendous amount of preparation goes into WCT plays and musicals that make optimum use of the Centennial Building’s stage. This design for ‘Dixie Swim Club’ does just that, specifically in areas of set and lighting design. Debra Smith, Greg Poulin and their crew members pay meticulous attention to numerous details. One could almost decide to rent out the WCT stage for the weekend as the sitting room of this cottage looked quite comfortable with personal and familiar touches everywhere, including the working ceiling fan. Acknowledgements to Julie Rutishauser and Debra Smith for the painstaking research in finding the right props and dressing for this cottage.
Mr. Poulin’s lighting design warmly focuses the mood and heightens the atmosphere of specific moments. Diane Cobbing, Monique Essegern and Donna Gunter finely accentuate these five uniquely different characters and personalities with appropriate looks in hair and costumes.
Director Eric Newton’s selection of a musical soundscape pre-performance and during scene changes brought back some fond memories for me. When I asked him at the intermission who had compiled the excellent selection of songs, Mr. Newton said he had researched online specific examples of Carolina beach music and these specific titles came up. Nice work here as many of the audience members around me were singing (and yep, I was too).
Several Durham Region theatres this season have selected ensemble plays to showcase the talents of performers. ‘The Dixie Swim Club’ is another example of an ensemble piece and, for it to work, these five ladies have had a lot of preparation to get to this point. During rehearsals, I’m sure Mr. Newton had to watch for a bonding of actors and to focus on the believability of character development. Along with these tasks, he would have to listen carefully and determine if the Southern accent is sustained naturally. Finally, he must monitor if the performances of these ladies are representative of the Southern US gentility and charm of the Carolina people. Quite the number of tasks to consider for 7-8-week rehearsal period.
Along with these tasks, ‘Dixie’ is also billed as a comedy. Do these actors create believable Southern ladies who deliver quick paced, razor sharp, and biting wit jokes and insults clearly and effectively?
Ms. Chernushenko and Ms. Gleed most certainly do so with gusto and flair. They delightfully command the stage as the flirtatious Lexie Richards and the cantankerous Vernadette Simms. Both actors carefully control and sustain their vocal levels and emotions in performance and don’t cross over the line into caricatures.
Ms. Dajka as tough as nails lawyer, Dinah Grayson, Ms. Dewey as former swim team captain and health nut, Sheree Hollinger and Ms. Morari as the sweet nun, Jeri – Neil, are competent performers who do hold their own in the comedy and poignancy of the play. These ladies do not cross over the line into caricatures either.
There are moments from Dajka, Dewey and Morari, however, where I could neither hear some of their dialogue nor the punch line of some of their jokes. Since I sat in the last row of the house, enunciation and vocal tonality were not always crisp. I’m sure they will be mindful to pay close attention to these two elements as performances continue.
I am always intrigued by, and applaud males, who step forward to direct productions which deal with the emotional intricacies of womanhood. Can a man truly understand the emotional highs and lows of women and what makes them tick? Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’ is one indication of how a man can understand clearly how women behave.
Eric Newton was successful in his directorial vision as this opening night audience appeared to enjoy the play tremendously. No matter what life may throw at them, these sometimes feisty, sometimes bitchy, sometimes spiteful ‘Dixie Swim Club’ women know they can always turn to each other for comfort, support and a good zinger every now and then.
All performances take place at the Whitby Centennial Building, 416 Centre Street South April 19-21, 26-28, 2018 at 8 pm with a matinee April 21 at 2 pm. Tickets are available at the door before each performance, call 905-668-8111 or visit the website for further information.