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Port City Playhouse The Dixie Swim Club

By • Feb 29th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
The Dixie Swim Club
Port City Playhouse
The Lab at Convergence, Alexandria, VA
Through March 10th
2:30 with one intermission
$18/$16 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed February 25th, 2012

Port City Playhouse’s The Dixie Swim Club (Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten) contains inklings of potential; however, the comedy lacks the focus and depth it needs to truly hit home. The Dixie Swim Club takes place over four separate summers (over the course of several years) at a beach house in the Outer Banks. Each summer, five college swim team friends meet for a long weekend of relaxation, laughs, and martinis. As time passes, we see the women transition throughout life and bond over a number of experiences, both good and bad.

The cast is uneven. All of these ladies fight for what is perceived to be a “genuine Southern dialect.” Unfortunately, the result is not good, and this steers focus away from much of the character development. This, of course, gets in the way of the comedy. While the women are funny, at times, a deeper analysis would have lent itself to the mining of a stronger brand of humor, and an even better payoff when the play takes a turn for the serious. The clear standout is Vernadette Simms, played by Gayle Nichols-Grimes, who is the only one of the cast to find multiple levels within her arc and her one-liners.

The direction (Eddie Page) is unclear in some aspects. The blocking is serviceable, save for a few awkward crosses. The more pressing issue is a lack of understanding: The show falls into the trap of being a stereotype of southern living and “feel good” coming-of-age friendships. It does not actually grasp these southern women and their intimacies and intricacies–not to mention the truth of the sharp-tongued refinement that is evident in the writing. Scenes are sometimes funny, sometimes clunky; sometimes unexpectedly (unceremoniously, unsympathetically) serious. There is no shaping or sculpting to be found. The somewhat peculiar choice to show topical video clips in between each scene, is presumably to establish that we are now traveling forward in time within the world of the play. I suspect, however, that this was actually intended as a distraction from the unnecessary and lengthy set dressing changes. Both this choice as well as the generalized comedy contributed to the pacing issues throughout.

The idea of the set (Eddie Page) is good: a wood-paneled cottage with the standard decor one might expect to find in a summer rental house. However, like the rest of the show, the attention to detail leaves one confused. While attention is given to having the detail of a towel rack and bathroom decor on the interior wall of the barely seen bathroom exit, the main window (which remains open throughout, supposedly featuring a “breathtaking view”) clearly opens to masking curtains; no effort is given to establish the view that is so raved about. Michael Page’s lighting design works as it should; it supports the action taking place. (Page also has a potentially poignant moment at the end, with focused light on the cherished swim team photograph.) The hair, makeup, and costumes were also uneven. While some of the costumes (Susan Boyd) worked, none of them evoked a specific feeling of the period. Or, rather, if they did, they were too similar to the later costumes to distinguish. Along these lines, the aging effects on each of the women were sometimes indiscernible and sometimes heavy-handed.

Port City Playhouse’s presentation of The Dixie Swim Club fails to find and exceed its limits. The friendships between the women lack heart, and by extension, so does the show as a whole. While good for several laughs, Port City Playhouse’s production is only scratching the surface of what could be a much more fleshed out show.

Director’s Notes

Growing up in Hampton, Virginia, I was always traveling to Nags Head, North Carolina, in the Outer Banks. In fact, for many of those years it was a “guys” weekend to Mile Marker 9 at the See Sea Hotel. When I first started reading this script it was so contagious I couldn’t put it down.

The Dixie Swim Club is Steel Magnolias meeting Same Time Next Year. But it resonates with notes of The Golden Girls and On Golden Pond. These five southern women, whose friendships began many years ago on their college swim team, set aside a long weekend every August to recharge those 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. 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 of men, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce, aging, and anything else that life flings at them.

The playwright comedy team of Jones, Hope, and Wooten are enjoying the reputation of being three of the most widely produced comedic playwrights in America. Jamie Wooten spent many seasons with Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia as a writer/producer on the classic television series The Golden Girls.

I’d like to dedicate this production to my favorite comediennes: Lucille Ball, Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty, Tina Anderson, Kacie Greenwood, Barbara Hayes, Laura Mitchell, and Gayle Grimes.

So grab your beach towel and sun screen lotion, and have a seat right here inside our own little beach cottage. Enjoy the show!

Eddie Page, Director

Photo Gallery

Tina Anderson, Kacie Greenwood and Gayle Grimes Table: Tina Anderson as Sheree Hollilnger, Gayle Grimes as Vernadette Simms and Laura Champe Mitchell as Jeri Neal McFeeley. Standing: Barbara Hayes as Lexie Richards and Kacie Greenwood as Dinah Grayson
Tina Anderson, Kacie Greenwood and Gayle Grimes
Table: Tina Anderson as Sheree Hollilnger, Gayle Grimes as Vernadette Simms and Laura Champe Mitchell as Jeri Neal McFeeley. Standing: Barbara Hayes as Lexie Richards and Kacie Greenwood as Dinah Grayson

Photos by Eddie Page

Cast

  • Sheree Hollinger: Tina Anderson
  • Lexie Richards: Barbara Hayes
  • Dinah Grayson: Kacie Greenwood
  • Vernadette Simme: Gayle Nichole-Grimes
  • Jeri Neal McFeeley: Laura Champe Mitchell

Artistic Team

  • Producer: Robert Kraus
  • Assistant Producer: Julia Harrison
  • Director: Eddie Page
  • Assistant Director: Marcia Carpentier
  • Stage Manager: Susie Poole
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Sarah Boyd
  • Set Design: Eddie Page
  • Master Carpenter: Robert Kraus
  • Assisted by: David Doll, Caden Mitchell, Champe Mitchell, Todd Mitchell, Eddie Page, Bruce Schmid, and Cal Whitehurst
  • Lighting Design: Michael Page
  • Master Electrician: Bob Scott
  • Assisted by: Chris Hardy, Robert Kraus, Susie Poole, and Julie Anne Watko
  • Sound Design: Alan Wray
  • Costume Design: Susan Boyd
  • Props and Set Dressing: Donna Reynolds and Rachel Alberts
  • Assisted by: Charlotte Alberts, Maya Brettell, Marcia Carpentier, Julia Harrison, Olivia LaGanza, and Nicole Zuchetto
  • Set Painting: Luana Bossolo
  • Assisted by: Julia Harrison, Casey Jackson, Kelley Judd, Dominic Tiberio, and Cory Vasques
  • Hair and Makeup Design: Chris Macey
  • Wardrobe: Julie Anne Watko
  • Assisted by: Jenna Brendler, Meghan Lau, and Margaret Snow
  • Videography: Frank Pasqualino
  • Photography: FT Eyre
  • Auditions: Susan Boyd, Bruce Schmid, and Carol Strachan

Disclaimer: Port City Playhouse provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.

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