by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
“You will laugh your socks off when you see this play” we had heard from a couple of people after they had seen a preview performance of “The Dixie Swim Club”. By golly, they were right, and if anyone finds a pair of socks in row B, please turn them in to the office. A perfect end of summer play, it will be on stage at 12000 Beach Boulevard until September 15. Call (904) 641-1212 for information and reservations.
This breezy comedy, written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, has an all-female cast with lots of one-line jokes and is making its Jacksonville premiere. The Jones Hope Wooten comedy team specializes in Southern humor and has created some twelve plays that have been produced all over the world and are favorites in community and dinner theatres throughout America. Another of their plays, “Dearly Departed” has been produced locally.
We have seen three of their works and “The Dixie Swim Club” is their best and by far their most popular. How popular? Over eighty theatres in the USA have secured the rights to produce it during the next twelve months. Now, that is popular and If you liked “Steel Magnolias” and “The Golden Girls”, you are gonna love “The Dixie Swim Club”.
The play is about five women who became bosom buddies while on their college swim team and have maintained their friendship by spending a long vacation weekend together every August, in a comfortable beachfront cottage in North Carolina. The curtain comes up as they begin to arrive for the 22nd time. They are now in their 40s. The other scenes in this two-act play take us to two more five-year reunions and then to a final one when all are in their 70s and have hair that has turned to silver.
What do these five gals do at their reunions? Well, girl things, like swim, hike, eat, joke, laugh, and talk. Yes, there is lots of talk about their loves and their living through, among other things, parenting, divorces, marriages, and then a great deal more talk about careers and plastic surgery and sex. If it sounds awfully serious, well , there are some heartwarming and touching moments, but humor is the name of this game and you will find yourself laughing yourself to tears.
Sheree (LISA CLARSON) is the first to arrive. She was the captain of the swim team and is the organizer and a health food nut who plans the daily activities. Happily married, her main concern comes up in Act II when she worries about becoming a grandmother.
The second to arrive is Lexie (ELIZABETH ROTHAN), a man-hungry playgirl, who before the end of the play has gone through four or five husbands (we lost count, but we think she did too). Probably equaling the number of divorces were her face lifts, tummy tucks, and lifts to other areas. Even at a creaky age 77, eyeing a man walking on the beach can make her blood boil.
Dinah (PATTI EYLER) is a workaholic lawyer, who is probably also an alcoholic since her favorite possession is her cocktail shaker which she fills a number of times during the day. We can report that she can hold her booze. In middle age, she finally finds her true love in a most unusual person; we won’t reveal the outcome here.
Vernadette (BROOKS ANNE HAYES MEIERDIERKS) is kooky and quaint with a husband who is a deadbeat drunk, a son who is in jail and a daughter who ran away and joined a cult. She drives an old beat-up pickup truck with a bumper held on by duct tape. While all the ladies certainly have funny lines and shine delivering them, Vernadette has a whole carload of laughs and part of the fun in this show is just waiting for her to open her mouth and deliver them.
The final character to appear is the demure and sweet Jeri Neal (LISA VALDINI), who entered a religious order and became a nun after college. When Sister Jeri arrives, her friends are astonished at the changes that have occurred during the past year. It’s too funny for us to reveal here and ruin it for you.
If you have read this far, no doubt four of the actresses may seem familiar to you. Lisa Clarson, Patti Eyler, and Lisa Valdini have done many Alhambra shows over the past twenty years, and their credits could fill this entire review. Brooks Anne is an Alhambra veteran as well, and also holds the title as the funniest female to have appeared on the stage at Players by the Sea over the years; she has the awards to prove it.
Elizabeth Ruthann is making her debut and we welcome her to the Alhambra family. A New York based actress, she has a number of impressive credits in that area, but obviously must have some Southern blood, as she was picture perfect for this role.
Producer Tod Booth has directed this lively, poignant, stimulating comedy about very believable human beings. Booth never allows the production to bog down—things are continually happening. The five ladies whose meticulously worked out performances fill very moment with busyness and intention are line perfect in their deliveries.
David Dionne’s set design captures the ambiance of a cottage on the ocean with a tiled white floor, white paneling, and comfortable furniture. Windows and a screen door suggest that gentle waves are just a short distance away.
The Costume Crew’s designs and choices match the personalities of the lovely ladies; some are designed to evoke laughter.
We have written at length about the food of the new Alhambra (now four years old!!). See alhambrajax.com for your choices for this show, which are, as always, exceptional.
We appreciate the care the Alhambra takes to create settings for each show that offer delightful visual surprises; these extras enhance the Alhambra experience. For the last show, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” we discovered Egyptian Sphinxes on the front lawn and a camel in the lobby. For “The Dixie Swim Club”, you will find a mini beach outside with real sand and beach chairs, and a lifeguard stand in the lobby. Both offer great photo opportunities. Thematic decor is one of the many responsibilities of Events Coordinator Dominic Windsor, who came to Jacksonville as an actor at the Alhambra and liked the city so much he settled here.
Don’t miss this terrific show. We guarantee laughs and lots of them.
THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM