The Dixie Swim Club

Theatrefest 2011 at University Theatre, NCSU
Through June 12

Your enjoyment of The Dixie Swim Club, the first entry in N.C. State University’s “Southern Comfort”-themed Theatrefest 2011, will depend on how many times you’ve seen this story before. There have been many tales of Southern women holding on to lifelong friendships throughout ups and downs, Steel Magnolias being perhaps the best-known example. This particular interpretation does nothing innovative to the concept, but for some audience members, it’s a serviceable introduction to this oft-told tale.

The story consists of four scenes at an Outer Banks beach house where the five members of the titular college swim team reunite for an annual weekend where they can “give each other advice and not wear bras for three days.” The crew consists of health nut leader Sheree (Suzanne Kennedy), much-married Lexie (Donna Rossi-Youngblood), ex-nun Jeri Neal (Sandi Sullivan), perpetually unlucky Vernadette (Kathy Norris) and career-driven lawyer Dinah (JoAnne Dickinson). Each interval brings revelations of new developments with children, husbands, health problems, romance and the problems of aging, met with the battle cry of “The faster we swim, the sooner we win!”

The play is yet another Southern-fried comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten (known collectively as “Jones Hope Wooten”), the team responsible for the likes of Dearly Beloved and Dearly Departed. This production has a more restrained feel than those plays, with fewer of their over-the-top elements (there’s still plenty of goofiness, including one scene where someone enters in a clown suit).

Much of the characters’ riffing sounds like something out of a sitcom; the story line plays like something out of Designing Women (the show contains perhaps the longest monologue about biscuits in the history of theater) or The Golden Girls (Lexie could be cloned from the DNA of Rue McClanahan’s Blanche Devereaux). Director and set designer John McIlwee does a good job of keeping the pacing fast and the material grounded, as does the cast, with Kennedy a standout as the relatively normal Sheree and Dickinson as the sharp-tongued Dinah.

There’s nothing new in The Dixie Swim Club, but there’s also nothing particularly objectionable in the ways it’s done. Audiences not inured to this type of material will likely be entertained by it, but for those familiar with tales of aging female friends, be warned: You’ll want to bring a scorecard to check off the clichés.