Friday, June 11, 2010

AHT: "The Dixie Swim Club"

Greg and I are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to the regular American Heartland Theatre productions we have attended for the last few years. Greg picks me up at 6, and off we go to the Crown Center for the evening. We park in almost the same spot right by the theatre level door and head off to the Streetcar Named Desire for dinner. There we both order the pork tenderloin with extra mayo and fries (I get onions he doesn't), scotch and water to drink and sit at the same table with usually the same waitress. Greg always gives me his pickle. A stroll to the theatre upstairs, order scotch and water from our favorite bartender Mark, and wait for whatever we are going to see. Last night was no exception but we were hatching plans to escape at intermission if "The Dixie Swim Club" (billed ominously as the "Next Steel Magnolias") was more than we could handle.

"Chick" plays or "Chick Flicks" usually are crashing bores for almost any member of the male population. Greg and I are hardly the most typical of men, neither of us are big fans of loud, obnoxious, boorish films or whatever and we both say please and thank-you a lot. Nevertheless, we considered if we were going to order an intermission drink in case we fled the show. We decided what the heck and planned for the whole evening.

Danm glad we did.

"The Dixie Swim Club" is a typical AHT play, breezy, light hearted, intimate (the theatre is small and it is easy to feel right on stage with the actors, plus we feel we know most of them through their regular appearances) and well paced. The plot is simple: 5 North Carolina ladies from a college swim club get together each August at a beach house for a reunion.

Sheree (the wonderful Cathy Barnett) is an annoying hyper-organizer who gags her friends each year with inedible health food snacks. Cheryl Weaver is Lexie, a Blanche Du Bois type with a husband-du-jour. Accident prone Vernadette (the fabulous Debra Bluford) lives a trailer-trash life with a no-good husband and a kid with a mile long rap sheet. The irrepressible Missy Koonce plays Dinah, an aggressive, martini drinking lawyer with no time for a social life. Finally there is Jeri Neal (Jennifer Mays), who became a nun but decided a worldly life was more her style completes the group.

The knee slapping one liners and silly situations fly like mosquitoes in the Okefenokee Swamp and frankly a less talented and looser ensemble would soon send "Dixie" into a proverbial comic swamp. But these ladies have impeccable timing, talent to burn from subtle glances and raised eyebrows (Koonce is a master at this, even when she was not speaking, her eyes, posture and gestures spoke volumes) to over the top theatrics (Vernadette's hilarious paean to the biscuit is a show stopper) which elevates the simple material to an outstanding comic production.

As the play takes the ladies from their 40s into their 70s, a bit of drama creeps in as regrets, illness and death take their toll. But thankfully it does not descend too far or get as sticky sweet as a Georgia peach and leaves the audience with a light hearted exploration of friendship.

Keeping the feeling of an intimate, friendly theatre, the actors in each show assemble to greet the audience. Since Greg knew Missy Koonce well and I had met her, we decided to drop in. I guess I made an impression on the cast as I laughed my ass off in my front row seat. I was treated to an impression by Cathy Barnett of my reactions. She was dead on.

A real treat, so we were glad we stayed and recommend "The Dixie Swim Club" for y'all to see, including the menfolk.

Dixie Swim Club through June 27 AHT

No comments: