Sunset Playhouse’s “Dixie Swim Club” is the stage version of a chick flick, the story of five Southern women who get together every year at the same cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Outer Banks of South Carolina.
All five were on a college swim team and repeat their team’s slogan at each of their four meetings — from when they’re in the 40s to their 70s — represented in the play: “The faster we swim, the more we win.” It is a touching story of enduring friendship as the five discuss the highs and lows of their lives.
These are some plum comic roles for actresses, and Sunset’s version, under the direction of Dustin Martin, brings together an outstanding quintet who squeeze every ounce of the tons of humor out of the show.
The five are very distinct Southern-tinged personalities — perhaps a bit clichéd, but loads of fun nonetheless. Sheree (Donna Daniels) is the ultimate organizer and a health food nut. Her “special” healthy hors d’oeuvres are discreetly disposed of and made fun of by the others, while her need to dot i’s and cross t’s has her packing emergency kits for everyone before an oncoming hurricane.
Dinah (Linda Wirth) is a high-powered lawyer with no plans to marry or have children. She packs a case of mixed-drink necessities almost as big as her luggage and tosses out sarcastic one-liners with regularity.
Lexie (Maureen Chobanoff) brings her own baggage to each meeting, usually throwing her own pity party about the latest husband she’s split with. She craves attention from the opposite sex, as well as her four friends, who have grown weary of her whining.
Vernadette (Cathy Marschall) is the sort of person who has a “kick me” sign on her back. Her marriage is lackluster, her kids underachievers — she boasts about one being “inmate of the month” — and she always arrives at the gatherings in some state of physical distress, from a broken arm to a neck injury. Yet, she always manages to see the sunny side of things.
Jeri (Stephanie Demyun Smith) is a former nun who has found a new calling in life and brings a different perspective to this relatively worldly group.
I like all the movement and energy this cast brings to the show, which is heavy with dialogue but feels as light as a feather, starting with Sheree’s getting into the music with some lively dancing at the beginning. The show is cleverly staged to keep characters in near constant motion that is purposeful — whether it's Vernadette’s dashing to the bathroom each time she arrives, Dinah’s pouring herself a drink or Sheree’s passing around her infamous treats, there’s just a lot going on.
And there is a lot to laugh at. The opening night crowd was definitely tuned into the laugh lines as guffaws punctuated each scene with regularity.
Perhaps the best lines are doled out by Dinah, and Wirth is the perfect doler, distributing her character’s sarcasm with precision. When Lexie, perpetually on the lookout for a new, rich male conquest, walks into the cottage with a blissful expression, Dinah wonders if a handsome investment banker has just washed up on the shore. Local audiences have been treated to Wirth’s exceptional comedic abilities recently, through her notable turns in Sunset’s “Steel Magnolias” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”
Daniels has also done some fine work recently on the Sunset stage, including “You Can’t Take It With You.” Her Sheree is perky and demonstrative, plus her take-charge attitude sees her herding the girls around like a border collie.
Chobanoff’s Lexie takes on more of a Southern belle demeanor than the others. Lexie usually arrives at the cottage in an emotionally needy state, which Chobanoff milks nicely. I love how she pouted in the corner while Sheree had even bigger news to share with the girls.
As Vernadette, Marschall is a big presence, giving her character a boisterous personality. While the first act gives only a hint of the show’s Southern roots, Act 2 contains Vernadette’s homage to the South, the play’s centerpiece. Marschall gives each word weight as she describes her love of all things Southern: “As long as there is music in Memphis, as long as a peanut grows in Georgia, as long as I can remember the South of my childhood, there will be biscuits on my table.” The audience applauded her pluck. The audience also loved her Bible PMS reference line in the first act, howling at her expert delivery.
Demyun Smith gives her Jeri character a sweet disposition, a nice contrast from her less diplomatic counterparts. She does a nice job with all the uproar created when she arrives at the cottage in the first scene with a lot of ’splainin’ to do.
Under Martin’s direction, the show is well-paced. When the women argue, the lines are rapid fire with bursts of anger, jealousy and hurt. When the mood turns more somber and pensive, the characters become more thoughtful, quiet and collegial with effective pauses in the dialogue.
The last scene, by which time the women have matured into their 70s, is a bit on the sappy side, but charming nonetheless. Vernadette manages to break the reverie with some well-placed one liners. I really enjoy how the sense of team, how individual pettiness and ego having given way to a melding into one group, comes through in that scene. It has a certain delightful mellowness that will leave audiences with a good feeling.
Though a chick play, I have to say there were plenty of men in the audience — who were laughing just as hard as the women.
If you go
WHO: Sunset Playhouse
WHAT: “Dixie Swim Club”
WHEN: Through May 7
WHERE: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove
INFO/TICKETS: sunsetplayhouse.com; 262-782-4430