Longtime friends gather on a yearly basis for a weekend of “no men, no kids, no work.” Sounds like a familiar enough setup for a play or a film, but The Dixie Swim Club, by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, now onstage at Venice Theatre, offers enough originality (including more than a dash of Southern spice) to stand out.
In this case, the friends are five former college swim team mates, who’ve been getting together every year at an Outer Banks beach cottage to share the highlights and low points of their lives. There’s plenty of both to go around, as we first meet them 22 years after graduation and then see them at five-year intervals, and, finally, more than 50 years after they first hit the water.
There’s Sheree (Nina Tufenkjian), the super organized former team captain, who also married the coach’s son; Dinah (Lisa B. Hamilton), an aggressive lawyer who’s never had much time for men; Lexie (Cara Herman), who’s had time for almost nothing but (her divorces are as regular as the beach tides); Jeri Neal (Stacy Pinkerton), a former nun who’s making a big life change; and Vernadette (Phyllis Banks), whom bad luck dogs constantly but, in her retelling of its vicissitudes, entertainingly.
In the first half of the play, as we get to know these women and their relationships, there are quite a few expected (but still funny) lines and situations; by intermission, there have been some surprising ones, too. Banks as Vernadette gets many of the funniest lines and bits, even showing up at one point wearing a clown suit and with crutches. Sometimes on opening night it wasn’t always possible to distinguish every word she spoke (perhaps she was rushing), but when Banks is on, she’s very amusing, and she gets a deserved round of applause after a fervent speech about Southern traditions centered on biscuits.
Herman likewise gets her share of laughs as the vain Lexie, always changing her appearance to stay young (the main visible change as the women age is their hairstyles) and flirting with any available men (offstage) as she scouts for future spouses. The other three actresses may not have as much stage time under their belts, and that occasionally shows with traces of awkwardness. But, under the affectionate direction of Candace Artim, they all can deliver when they really need to, and form a convincing bond as friends who may squabble but will always make up.
The action takes place on a pleasing-to-look-at set by David Lynn-Jones, complete with weathered-looking boards and suitable beach cottage furniture, all of which contributes to a comfortable atmosphere for these women to reunite in. During scene changes, we see projected images of the cast, together and separately, at different important times of their lives; you may wish the changes could move just a little bit faster.
The Dixie Swim Club continues through Oct. 16; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.