by: COURTESY PHOTO: THEATRE IN THE GROVE - Head to Theatre in the Grove to see the Dixie Swim Club.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 2007 play is occasionally overly expository and somewhat derivative, with strong influences from oft-performed classics like Steel Magnolias, plus a liberal dose of The Golden Girls. But 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.

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, 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. 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.

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.

This is a condensed version of a longer review that can be found

online at

Contract Publishing

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