Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

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January 23, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Dixie Swim Club' focuses on friendship

CROSSVILLE — Are you in need of a laugh on these cold winter days? Call for tickets to see “The Dixie Swim Club” in the Adventure Theater of the Cumberland County Playhouse.

Weslie Webster, Dee Nicole Bell, Kathryn Berman, Leila Nelson and Lauren Marshall Murphy portray women who once made up a collegiate swim team. When the show opens, they are all 44 years old. By the final curtain, 30 years have elapsed. One senses that deep inside, they all become 20-year-olds when they come together for their annual beach front gathering.

Lauren Marshall Murphy is at her best in the role of Sheree, their former team captain. “Once a captain, always a captain” holds true for this over-organized woman. In the opening scene, clad in shorts and moving like a teenager, she is certain the others will have forgotten what she assigned them to bring. She has done it all, including hors d'oeuvres that find their way into the potted plant. The idea of aging terrifies her. Becoming a grandmother is not on her carefully planned agenda. Her lack of control of a hurricane threatening their coastal retreat causes her to pack up for everyone.

Kathryn Berman plays Dinah. This lawyer, a devoted career woman, keeps the team well filled with alcohol. Anytime is time for a martini. Berman brings us Dinah as a power to be respected whether in court or in conversation. Is there a softer side?   

Danielle “Dee” Bell has been part of the resident company of the Playhouse for three years. Vernadette, whom she portrays, is in sharp contrast to the super successful Dinah. Her performance is both witty and bittersweet. The life of Vernadette is chaotic, “just one country song.” Marriage to an often unemployed husband, wayward children who are frequently incarcerated have marked her life. At one point Jeri Neal asks, “If you had your life to live over, would you have had kids again?”

“Sure, just not the same ones.”

Over the years, Vernadette's health declines sharply.

Jeri Neal is played by Leila Nelson. What does she want of life? To be a nun? To be a mother? Nelson, whom we know as the resident choreographer and teacher of dance, is superb in the role of this woman whose life seems ever to be seeking new direction. 

Many of the laughs from the audience came in response to Weslie Webster as Lexie. Her looks and her youth are central to life. A favorite moment for me came as Lexie looked out the window of their North Carolina beach cottage at the ocean. “Isn't it beautiful,” she muses. The others assume she is looking at the Atlantic. “No, I was looking at myself.” Costume Designer Renee G. Luttrell has clad Webster in properly provocative outfits given the fact that Lexie is frequently looking for a new male partner. Webster clearly enjoys taking on the persona of a vamp. 

Nicole Hackmann has directed these women to portray the camaraderie that dates back to their college years. They celebrate their individual accomplishments. They console one another. Increasingly, they depend on one another as the years pass and their self-absorption with themselves begins to dim.  

Co-written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, “The Dixie Swim Club,” with its focus on the friendship of aging Southern women, is sometimes compared to “Steel Magnolias” without the tragedy of that play. Since Jamie Wooten spent many seasons as writer/producer of “The Golden Girls” on television, that show easily comes to mind. This script seems to have given the actors stereotypes to portray. They do that well. Will a deeper sense of caring for each other, with or without the martinis, develop during the run of the show? Knowing these women from their past appearances on stage, I suspect it will. You have until March 21 to see “The Dixie Swim Club.” Order your tickets and try to be seated in the center area or on the left as you enter the Adventure Theater. 

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