Theater review: Vets Create Waves of Laughter in ‘Dixie Swim Club’

The Dixie Swim ClubIt’s always nice to spend time with people that know what they’re doing. Case in point: The Dixie Swim Club now producing large amounts of well-earned laughter at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre.

Director Bobby Wyckoff and his colleagues are theater vets whose decades of experience pay off with a very entertaining take on the Southern-fried gal-pal story penned by Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten (Dearly Departed, Christmas Belles).

The trio’s penchant for sometimes saucy, sometimes sarcastic but never too starchy stories holds up well in this installment. The set-up is appropriately simple: the annual reunion each August of a former swim team at a beach house on North Carolina’s picturesque Outer Banks.

There’s Sheree (Holly Butler), who still acts like the swim team captain she was years ago; Lexie (Kim Nygren), who goes through men like others go through Kleenex; Dinah (Rebekah Durham), a tough-as-nails attorney who keeps liquor companies thriving; Vernadette (Kelly Lapczynski), who manages a wry sense of humor despite having the husband and kids from Hell; and Jeri (Vicki White), a sweet woman whose time as a nun ends in a surprising way.

The play covers a span of 33 years, with the women aging from their 40s to their 70s. And while much of the tale is a catalogue of regional and gender stereotypes – as well as typical plot complications like life-threatening illness – The Dixie Swim Club works because those involved keep characters from sliding into caricatures.

Lapczynski has a gift for delivery any actor would desire, and her handling of everything from an impassioned defense of Southern biscuits to her character’s late-life memory loss is superb. White makes the naïve-to-knowing arc of her character completely believable; Nygren insures her man-eater’s sharp mind and good heart also get noticed; Durham plays her part with a virtuoso’s artistry and a technician’s eye for telling detail; and Butler’s character transitions, particularly those that reveal the serious interior beneath Sheree’s spunky interior, are the seamless work of an assured and very talented actor.

The quintet work so well together one could swear they’ve been together as long as their characters. And I really appreciate how they play their parts in the final scene – many actors overdo advanced-age mannerisms until they’re unintentionally insulting; the ensemble showed respect for the maturity of their women by not doing so.

Wyckoff has plenty of experience with stage comedy as an actor himself. He has created a well-paced framework for his players to work, including a set with John Chaffin and sound design that encourages a breezy, upbeat feeling. The costumes and wigs by Colleen Garatoni are generally good, though middle-aged wigs for Butler and Durham’s characters looked ill-fitting for the otherwise well-organized Sheree and Dinah.

The Dixie Swim Club is ultimately a comedic celebration of friendship. In the Chaffin’s Barn production it’s also a celebration of the fine work an experienced cast and crew can do.

The Dixie Swim Club continues through Sept. 30 at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Hwy. 100. Performances start at 8 p.m. (with dinner served 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m. (with dinner served noon to 1:30 p.m.); Thursday and Saturday matinees are at noon with doors opening at 11 a.m. (no buffet but box lunches are available). For tickets ($40-$60; call for group rates and special offers) or more information call (615) 646-9977 or visit www.dinnertheatre.com.

*Photo by John Chaffin courtesy Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).