Monday, June 3, 2013


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Theatre in the Grove’s current offering, The Dixie Swim Club, is one of those rare show-biz animals where the quality of the production not only enhances, but outshines, the quality of the original script.  The play, a 2007 work by playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, is occasionally overly expository and somewhat derivative, with strong influences from oft-performed classics like Same Time, Next Year and Steel Magnolias, plus a liberal dose of The Golden Girls  (not surprising, as Wooten was a co-writer on the popular sitcom). Happily, Director Jeanine Stassens does not allow her fine cast to rely on trite stereotypes to develop their characters.

The Dixie Swim Club tells the story of five women, friends since their college swim-team days, who reunite annually at a cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over a 55-year period, the friends are shown reconnecting as they navigate their lives’ many changes – challenges like unwed motherhood, no-account children and husbands, leaving the convent, the physical changes associated with aging (and one characters’ fight to ward off this harsh reality), disease, grandchildren, and even death. Through all of the drama, the five very different women manage to preserve the friendships that grew from their accidental meeting in the college pool.

Former team captain Sheree (Jeanna Van Dyke) is, in many ways, the dominant member of the group. Alone at the beginning of the first scene, she seems somewhat uninhibited, but Van Dyke smoothly shifts into her character’s take-charge persona as soon as Lexie (Patti Speight) arrives on the scene. Van Dyke manages to be pushy and intrusive while retaining a fundamental likeability that justifies her friends’ loyalty; in the scene where she finally cracks, Van Dyke convincingly finds her character’s long-suppressed vulnerability. Speight has a lot of fun, and many of the best lines, with the role of Lexie, who seems to be irredeemably self-centered and shallow (who MARRIES her plastic surgeon?).  In the second act Lexie is forced to undergo a dramatic transformation, and Speight gracefully handles the challenge of plumbing her character’s new-found depth.

The characters of Jeri Neil (Tanja Crouch) and Dinah (Anne Kennedy) also undergo profound personality changes. Jeri Neil moves from naive nun to happily married woman, yet Crouch manages to retain her character’s fundamental innocence even as she becomes a sexual being. Dinah bridges her estrangement from Lexie, evolving from a career-driven (and hard-drinking) solo lifestyle to a compassionate and supportive friend. Kennedy demonstrates her skill as an actress through the restraint she brings to her performance.

The role of Vernadette, plagued by a lifetime of hard luck, in many ways dwarfs the breadth of the other characters’ transformations. Virginia Kincaid brings years of acting experience to the part; her timing and delivery provide comic relief until the last scene, where she subtly expresses her own unique version of memory loss and aging.

The teamwork of director, cast, and crew combine to breathe life and depth into the play.

The quality of the acting is matched by strong production values – the sound and lighting are flawless. Director Stassen and Zachary Centers have designed a striking set that manages to capture the beauty of the unseen beach panorama and the elegant charm of the cottage.

The Dixie Swim Club plays at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through June 16th.

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