by Wyleen Luoma
The Kings Players’ upcoming production of The Dixie Swim Club (by Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones, and Nicholas Hope) is a laughter-filled tribute to the relationships between five Southern women who have been meeting at a beach cottage every August for 33 years straight. Think Steel Magnolias meets the Golden Girls. The play is laced with moments of bawdy comedy, long-standing rivalries and, above all, steadfast loyalties, as the five friends try to relive and revive the team spirit that once made them the stars of their high school’s Swim Team.
There’s Sheree the control freak (Bethany Reynolds); Dinah the up-tight lawyer (Mary-Catherine Paden); Lexie, who takes narcissism to new levels (Danielle Bellman); Jeri Neal, a nun like no other (Samantha Highfill); and Vernadette, who is attended by disaster at every turn (Nicole Devol).
This interviewer, as usual, asked each actress to share her impressions of her character. According to Reynolds, playing Sheree is a real challenge because Sheree is such a perfectionist and Reynolds is nothing like that, although she does have empathy for Sheree. Maybe because she is such a control freak, Reynolds gets the most satisfaction from the scene where Sheree falls apart in the aftermath of a devastating revelation.
Devol loves playing Vernadette, largely because, although Vernadette’s life is in a perpetual state of disaster, she never lets it force her to crawl into a hole and just curl up. In spite of one calamity after another, Vernadette endures because she truly loves her totally dysfunctional family. It’s no surprise that Vernadette takes as much comfort as she can from her own homemade biscuits and Dinah’s perfectly prepared martinis.
“Dinah is up tight on the outside, but secretly on the inside, she is a very loving person,” says Paden of her character. It’s this quality which makes Dinah so endearing and such a great character for Paden to bring to life. The true extent of Dinah’s love for the other women only becomes truly evident as the play moves into its final scenes.
“Everybody loves Lexie! How could they not love Lexie!” Bellman gushes when asked why the other four continue to put up with Lexie’s total self-absorption year after year. Still, according to Bellman, it is ultimately Lexie who undergoes the most profound changes in herself and her relationship to the other women when threatened by a life-altering challenge which forces her to finally grow up.
Highfill’s character, Sister Jeri Neal, is always “bubbly and happy,” to the point of total exasperation. Sister Jeri had a very sheltered upbringing with her grandparents and very little life experience before becoming a nun. Her unworldliness notwithstanding, it is Jeri Neal who presents the others with a completely unexpected development of monumental proportions.
In spite of their very different personalities–or perhaps because of them–these ultimately indomitable women manage to achieve a bond between them that has survived betrayals, wounds, and grievances to emerge unbroken after 33years.
Director Debbie Walker has taken on the formidable challenge of “aging” the actors from their mid-forties to their mid-seventies throughout the course of the play, while at the same time preserving the essence of their earlier selves in a way that the audience will recognize. Given the commitment and dedication of “The Dixie Swim Club’s” cast and crew, this interviewer is betting on Walker to pull it off.
What: The Dixie Swim Club
When: September 1-2, 8-10,15-17, 22-24. Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Where: The Temple Theater, 514 Visalia St., Hanford
Price: $12 if reserved at www.kingsplayers.net; $14 if purchased at the box office.
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