The cast of Early Bird Dinner Theatre’s production of “The Dixie Swim Club” includes, from left, Barbara Anthony, Tracy Borgatti, Mary Ann Bardi, Marianne Meichenbaum and Robin New.
Eccentric characters and sweet Southern charm eclipse a somewhat predictable story and make for a delicious mix in the “The Dixie Swim Club,” by playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten.
“The Dixie Swim Club” will run through Feb. 27 at Ed Fletcher’s Early Bird Dinner Theatre. The production is presented at the Italian-American Club, 200 S. McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater.
Evening performances are Thursday through Sunday, with seating 4 p.m. Matinees are Thursday and Sunday, with seating at 11 a.m. Cost is $29.90.
The story examines the friendship of five North Carolina women, with a strong accent on Southern sensibilities. The characters include Sheree, the spunky team captain; Dinah, the wisecracking overachiever; Lexie, a pampered and outspoken belle who has a long list of ex-husbands; Vernadette, the self-deprecating and acerbic washout of the group; and Jeri Neal, the naïve and eager-to-please member whose change in direction takes the group by surprise early on in the play.
Their strong camaraderie dates back to their time together on their college swim team. The women set aside a long weekend every August to come together and relive past glory, celebrate their accomplishments and console one another when life becomes difficult.
Sworn to leave husbands, jobs and children out of picture for that one weekend, the women meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Spanning three decades, scenes are set at intervals and emphasize life changes as well as individual changes in perception.
It is impossible not to point to plays with similar themes and settings. “The Dixie Swim Club” is far lighter than “Steel Magnolias” – without the distressing tragedy of a life cut far too short. Still, the study of the bonds the women develop and how they share suffering and successes equally clearly connects with the audience. The hardships – and the benefits – of aging are depicted in a gentle comedic manner; in this way, the play parallels the television sitcom “The Golden Girls.”
Marianne Meichenbaum plays team leader Sheree, underscoring the obsessive quirks of the character with subtle fastidiousness. Meichenbaum does a wonderful job giving the audience an occasional glimpse at Sheree’s well-hidden imperfections.
Mary Ann Bardi portrays success-driven Dinah, painting a portrait of a career dynamo. Most of the play’s characters experience a kind of transformation; Bardi does a particularly good job of conveying Dinah’s change.
As Lexie, Barbara Anthony is convincingly self-absorbed. She’s easily the least likable character, but Anthony manages to give the audience a reason to have some compassion for her.
Tracy Borgatti successfully depicts the Jeri Neal’s somewhat late entry into adulthood.
Robin New conjures the dark cloud that follows poor Vernadette in a marvelous performance that runs the gamut from witty to bittersweet.
While the familiar characters never disintegrate into stereotypes in “The Dixie Swim Club,” it is easy to see how they could. The cast of this production keeps that from happening. New, also serving as director, strikes the perfect tone with “The Dixie Swim Club,” giving each cast member the freedom to relax a little bit on stage and truly realize the character they’re playing.
The audience, in turn, becomes the proverbial fly on the wall, eavesdropping on these unforgettable women as they advance in years and their friendship evolves.