REVIEW: Greenville Theatre Reopens with Laughs and Tears in ‘Dixie Swim Club’

By Steve Wong
DRAMA CRITIC

This is an easy play to love and just what is needed as we hope the pandemic is over, and that hugs will once again be as common as sand dollars on the Carolina coast.

The cast of The Dixie Swim Club. Photo by Wallace Krebs Photography

In a time when hugs are as scarce as grains of Carolina beach sand in the Foothills, Greenville Theatre’s current production of The Dixie Swim Club is like a much-needed embrace from your oldest and best friend.

It’s a feel-good play that starts with dancing like-no-one-is-watching to shag music, takes you through the ups and downs of a lifetime friendship between five Carolina girls, and ends with the bitter/sweet notion that all good things come to an end eventually — but not quite yet. The best years of your thighs may be over, but who knows what the tides of life may yet wash ashore.

This is the first production by Greenville Theatre since the start of the COVID pandemic, and from the looks of the crowd this past Friday night, local theatre-lovers are starved for belly laughs, witty chatter, strong southern women, and a reminder that life is only as complicated as you make it. If you make it with homemade biscuits and screwdrivers for breakfast, the complications fade away like your Myrtle Beach tan.

Meet Lexie, Sheree, Vernadette, Jeri Neal, and Dinah: Five women who met on a swim team in college and became close friends, close enough to keep up of the tradition of gathering for a long weekend every year in August in the same cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. No husbands, no children, no work: just eating, drinking, ocean gazing, and touching all the bases in each other’s lives. They do this for decades, and we, the audience, get to be flies on the wall at four pivotal gatherings: 22 years after college, five years later, five more years later, and sort of ending 33 years later. By then the characters are in their 70s, widowed, using canes, but ever connected by the strongest of bonds.

Kristi Parker Byers plays Lexie, the husband-hunting, self-absorbed party girl who’s not afraid to look good via the plastic surgeon’s knife.

Mary Freeman plays Sheree, the over-organized team captain with a taste for nasty health food. She keeps her and everyone else’s lives in balance, on time, and genteel.

The winner of nine Joanne Woodward Awards, Beth Munson takes on the role of Vernadette, a woman who can’t seem to catch a break, but who is likely to break some of her body parts along the way. 

Ashleigh Stowe, a theatre graduate of Florida State University, becomes Jeri Neal, an innocent soul who learns the ropes as she goes from being a pregnant nun to a job-hunting single mother with bad taste in business attire.

Finally, Kelly Wallace is Dinah, the smart one in the bunch. As a high-powered Atlanta attorney, she was too busy for a personal life, until she actually has one. And, she’ll have one for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner, and one for the road.

Together these actresses form a close-knit friendship that is tested time and again by lost love, bad marriages, failed careers, incarcerated children, sickness and health, and finally by death and old age. Through the laughter and tears, these women persevere by being there for each other.

Greenville Theatre made a good choice in producing The Dixie Swim Club as its comeback production. There’s nothing we southerners like better than plays about ourselves and all the things that make us southern. Of course, it has to be done with good taste and humor and just a few splashes of innuendo and cattiness to spice things up a bit. Some credit for the play’s standing ovation must be given to the Theatre’s new Producing Artistic Director Max Quinlan, who greeted the audience as an excellent pitchman and new father. He and Director Suzanne McCalla are commended for turning on the house lights with such an endearing production.

As an international sensation, The Dixie Swim Club was first produced in 2008. It was written by playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, a.k.a collectively as Jones Hope Wooten, a team that specializes in laugh-out-loud comedies about strong women. Their works include such hits as The Savannah Sipping Society, Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles, The Red Velvet Cake War, and Always A Bridesmaid. If you’re not familiar with those plays, think TV’s Golden Girls series, for which Wooten won a Writers Guild of America award.

I highly recommend seeing The Dixie Swim Club at Greenville Theatre. which always presents a first-class production, a classic set design by Graham Shaffer, and identifying costume designs by Thomas Brooks. This is an easy play to love and just what is needed as we hope the pandemic is over and that hugs will once again be as common as sand dollars on the Carolina coast.

The Dixie Swim Club continues at Greenville Theatre through August 15. Visit greenvilletheatre.org for tickets.

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