By Bridgette M. Redman
Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten have created a franchise out of the Southern woman.
They’ve written play after play about Southern women and how they relate to each other, to their men and to the world around them. “The Dixie Swim Club,” now playing at The Dio – Dining & Entertainment, takes a page from “Steel Magnolias” and shows the women as they are like when they are away from kids, husbands, home and the demands of public social events.
What makes this play work so well at The Dio are the five actresses they have playing these women. They are tightly bound together, and you don’t doubt that they’ve been friends for 23 years when we meet them. They have the casual comfort of women who know each other’s secrets, who have been athletes together and who have never let the camaraderie of their team die.
The play opens 22 years after these five women graduated from college. They swam competitively in college and have kept up their friendship, meeting for a swim club meeting over a weekend every August at a beach cottage in North Carolina. The play covers 33 years of their life, and together they share the pains of aging, the aches of life and the surprises and laughs that come along the way.
Steve DeBruyne directed a true ensemble effort with this production. Each woman has her moment where she shines, but all of them blend so well together that there is no star or minor character. DeBruyne lets the natural energy of these women shine through, and they are never overcome by the difficulties they face in life, but rather draw strength from each other. When there is an emotional choice to be made, the choice is always the one that brings the characters closer to joy.
It’s tricky what the actresses pull off, because the script lends itself to stereotyping. Each character starts out as a type, and it is the acting – not the script – that helps them rise above that.
Sonja Marquis plays the team captain, Sheree. She is the Type-A personality who keeps them all organized and pushes the decisions onto the others that she thinks are healthiest. She’s also the glue that keeps them together, always being a cheerleader and valuing the bond that they have together.
Amy Morrisey is Dinah, the successful lawyer and career woman who can be brash and quick with a witticism, but has a deep love for the women who have been a part of her life for so long. She’s quick to drink a martini or other cocktail, but Morrisey never plays her as a drunkard or goes for the easy choice of the stereotypical alcoholic.
Sarah Burcon is the vain and man-obsessed Lexie. She has a string of divorces, and is always on the make for the next man. She’s obsessed with her plastic surgery, her appearance and anything having to do with Lexie. Yet Burcon mines the character for more than just the beauty queen man-hunter. She creates a Lexie who is part of a team and who relies on her teammates for those things which are genuine in her life.
Brenda Lane is most successful in taking her character away from the stereotype while still being true to what is written. Vernadette could be played as a hillbilly with no real connections to the others. Instead, Lane shows why she is as much a part of this team as the others, despite her poverty and the bad luck that follows her throughout her life. She is especially heart-rending in the final scene and makes beautiful choices that let her character shine through even as life overtakes her.
Laura Mandernack brings life and innocence to Jeri Neal, the character who entered the convent after college. She is Lexie’s opposite, but Mandernack creates a character who is naive yet believable. She’s always optimistic, even when life tosses her some challenges that exhaust her.
There are four scenes over two acts in this play, and each time the characters must age – at first only in five-year spans, but then by 23 years. The actresses pay attention to their body language, and each grows and develops in her own way over the 33 years.
They’re also quick to make costume and hair changes, with a workable design from Thalia Schramm who was in charge of costume, hair and makeup.
The Dio is a dinner theater, and it would be remiss to ignore the food that was as good as anything happening on stage. Chef Jarod DeBruyne serves a meal that is delectable and well-flavored. Having worked as a sous chef in a country club, he creates a menu that rises above standard fare. The menu for this run includes pasta salad, cheesy potatoes, salad, beef kabobs and chicken kabobs, both uniquely and differently flavored and prepared. It is clear that as much care has gone into the meal as has gone into the stage production.
The Dio has carefully planned an evening of food and entertainment that is both satisfying and uplifting. It tells its story about love, friendship and aging, while never losing sight of all the things there are in life to laugh about.
‘The Dixie Swim Club’
The Dio – Dining and Entertainment, 135 E. Main St., Pinckney. 6:30 p.m. June 13-14, 20-21, 27-28 & July 5; and 12:30 p.m. June 8, 15, 22, 26, 29 & July 6. 2 hours, 9 minutes, with dessert served during intermission. $35-41; all tickets include dinner, non-alcoholic beverage, dessert and show. 517-672-6009. http://www.diotheatre.com