Tim Leininger, Contributing Critic - Connecticut
Armed with the knowledge that they have the ability to assemble a solid troupe of female actors, Little Theatre of Manchester has brought a light comedy about southern female camaraderie and the bonds of life long friendship in “The Dixie Swim Club” by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten.
Set in a beach cottage on the Outer Banks, the five women, Sheree Hollinger (Gayle Barrett), Vernadette Simms (Noel-Marie Karvoski), Lexie Richards (Krista Lucas), Dinah Grayson (Kelly Mehiel), and Jeri Neal McFeeley (Trish Urso), were all part of the same championship swim team.
Every year, the five women get together at the cottage to reminisce on their glory days – the play starts with the women having done this for 22 years and then jumping five years between scenes one, two, and three, and a 23 year jump to scene four -- and offer support for each other with whatever problems they are going through that year.
The script by Jones, Hope, and Wooten doesn’t linger too long on conflict; instead it opts to err on the side of humor and sentimentality. This is somewhat disappointing at times as it would have been more fulfilling theater if the characters who open up not only about their problems at home but their problems with each other actually developed these conflicts.
For instance, at the end of Act 1 three of the women have gotten into a fairly heated argument with each other, but the conflict quickly drops and there is no pay off with the problems the women are dealing with. The act ends and we jump ahead another five years. This play is supposed to be about women getting stronger together and if these issues aren’t dealt with, I fail to see where that foundation of solidarity can still hold.
Though the conflict is weak, what makes “The Dixie Swim Club” enjoyable is the distinct qualities of the women and how their personalities find a way to work together in spite of the occasional dust up and how with solid performances by the women, the humor mostly hits its mark.
Barrett has the more difficult role to play as the somewhat uptight and procedural leader of the group, Sheree, but she is able to capture the tenderness necessary to create empathy for the role.
Karvoski gets the best lines as the beleaguered Vernadette. She is at her best when she taps into Vernadette’s razor sharp wit.
Lucas finds her inner Blanche Devereaux as the vain and sexually liberated Lexie, but also adds a touch of inner conflict with her inability to admit that her vanity may be why she starts the show on her third divorce.
Mehiel captures Dinah’s firmness and sense of duty as the foundation of the group and Urso comfortably plays the cute and sweet elements of nun Jeri Neal, who has a big surprise for her friends at the top of the play.
Linda Ferreira’s set is great with its classic clean, white and blue nautical color and design with a sense of depth and cool vacation home feel.
Director Tracy Funke does a good job of keeping the action front and center in the deep set, though on one occasion has the women running around at each other in a moment that loses its intensity a bit where grounding the characters may have worked a little better.
“The Dixie Swim Club” is an enjoyable show that, though light on dealing with conflict, does have a sweet sentiment for five women who support each other through thick and thin.
The Dixie Swim Club
Theater: Little Theatre of Manchester at Cheney Hall
Location: 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten; Directed by Tracy Funke; Lighting Design by Dan Checovetes; Props Design by Jaime Williams; Set Design by Linda Ferreira; Sound Design by Ronald Schallack; Technical Direction by Dan Checovetes; Costume Design by Lloyd Hall; Stage Manager: Daniel Pear
Show times: Evening: Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. Matinee: Sunday 2 p.m.
Tickets: $19 to $25. Available online at www.cheneyhall.org, by phone at 860-647-9824, or at the box office