The Walpole Footlighter's first show of their 86th season is the New England area premiere of "The Dixie Swim Club", a comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. This touching comedy centers around five Southern women who became friends on their college swim team. The group sets aside a long weekend every August to recharge their relationships. Free from husbands, kids and jobs, they meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina's Outer Banks to catch up, laugh and meddle in each other's lives. The play begins 22 years after they graduate from college. "The Dixie Swim Club" focuses on four of those weekends and spans a period of thirty-three years. As their lives unfold and the years pass, these women increasingly rely on one another, through advice and raucous repartee, to get through the challenges (men, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce and aging) that life flings at them. And when fate throws a wrench into one of their lives in the second act, these friends, proving the enduring power of 'teamwork', rally around their own with the strength and love that takes this comedy in a poignant and surprising direction. It is really a study in friendship and how it grows and changes through the years. Kay Carter Blaha directs the show wonderfully, mixing the comic and touching moments perfectly, giving each one of her actresses their moment to shine in their roles.
Kay blocks her cast very well and gives them each a distinct personality so you can tell them apart. She is also a wonderful actress who I reviewed as Nanny in "Hollywood Arms" back in 2006. Her assistant director is Christine Grudinskas who I reviewed in "Over the River and Through the Woods". The fantastic unit set is a gorgeous Outer Banks summer cottage designed and built by Roger Pettis. The set contains a bay window that shows the beach outside it with a realistic lighthouse with an actual beacon in it. The wonderful lighting design is by Doug Gordon and the production manager who keeps things running smoothly all night long is Debbie Ranaldi. She and her crew change the scene with props and decorations with the last one of sheets being put on the furniture winning it applause at their expertise.The technical director is Dan Sheehan with the beautiful costumes by Kate Smith especially comical are Lexie's slutty outfits and Vernadette's clown costume. These five women have personalities that probably never would have developed into friendships if not for their common bond as teammates in college. The show illustrates the value of friendships and the fact that in the midst of experiencing life's challenges women just want someone to listen to them. It is also very comedic with the woman not getting along with each other until a final poignant moment.
All five women do a terrific job with their roles. Sheree, the spunky team captain, desperately tries to maintain her organized and 'perfect' life, and continues to be the group leader. Gorgeous blond haired Linda Nelson plays this control and health freak whose healthy hors d'oeuvres are not liked by the other girls. (A funny scene takes place as each of them spits them out into the plant in the cottage.) She leads them in their cheer year after year, feels sad about becoming a grandmother and has a touching scene at the end of the show. Ninette Cummings plays Dinah, the wise-cracking overachiever is a career dynamo, but her victories in the courtroom are a stark contrast to the frustrations of her personal life. Dinah has an eye for detail and finally finds love with Randall, one of Lexie's ex-husbands. Ninette has many funny moments and a touching one in the first scene of the second act when she comforts one of the ladies on their impending cancer surgery. (I previously reviewed Ninette as Claire in "A Delicate Balance" in 2005 and as Flo in "Picnic" in 2007.) Lexie, pampered and outspoken, is determined to hold on to her looks and youth as long as possible. She enjoys being married over and over and over again. Cynthia Wegel plays the scene stealing, Lexie who is reminiscent of Blanche from "Golden Girls" TV show. (I last reviewed her in "45 Seconds from Broadway". Lexie is a vain trollop whose personal life is a mess with her many divorces. She vacillates from shrew to nice and back again. Cynthia's character shows her heart of gold in the last scene when she takes one of the women in to be her roommate.
The self-deprecating and acerbic Vernadette, acutely aware of the dark cloud that hovers over her life, has decided to just give in and embrace the chaos. She is played by Irene Bagodian whose character is the happiest, an easy going woman with a deadbeat husband, delinquent children and a truck bumper held on with duct tape. Vernadette always has to pee when she first arrives at the cottage and she always has some kind of injury. She arrives in one scene in a clown outfit because her husband hid all her clothes from her. Irene has a show stopping speech about Southern women making biscuits which wins her applause from the audience. The final member is sweet,eager-to-please, Jeri Neal played by Colleen Lavery, who experiences a late entry into motherhood that takes them all by surprise. Jeri is a former nun who is pregnant, courtesy of artificial insemination, after catching baby fever while holding one for a homeless woman at a shelter and is a hoot at the end of the first scene when she starts to go into labor. Jeri marries Bryce, a younger man and always looks at things optimistically. (I also reviewed Colleen in "45 Seconds to Broadway".) So for a look at a brand new comedy, be sure to catch "Dixie Swim Club" at Walpole Footlighters where you will have many laughs and a poignant moment or two during this topnotch show.