Critic At Large WeAreGreenBay

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Dixie Swim Club' charms in Sturgeon Bay

Rogue Theater

STURGEON BAY, Wis. - I gotta tell ya, the thing choked me up – the ending of Rogue Theater’s “The Dixie Swim Club.”

The play tells a lot about life.

Friendship.

Passing time.

Individuals.

Mortality.

Along the way, carloads of laughs fill the play by expert team playwrights Jones Hope Wooten – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.

The production by Rogue Theater community theater that’s running to Oct. 15 features team actors Jamie Buesing, Donna Johnson, Pamela Johnson, Lola DeVillers and Lori Wier, directed by Stuart Champeau.

The little stage at Jaycee Hall is brim with experience. Each actor has crucial scenes in which she can swing for the fence, so to speak, and be the player of the moment. As in baseball home runs, the hitter often brings teammates with her around the bases.

This sports analogy is a bit different than the one in the play. In the play, the five characters are members of a college swim team who stuck together as friends forever. Each year, they gather at a beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a weekend of freedom and catching up. In four scenes, they are seen first when they are age 44 after striking out in the world, then five years later, then five years later and finally 23 years later, when they are age 77 or so.

+ Sheree (Pamela Johnson) is the fussy organizer, the captain of the team and the boss over everybody.

+ Lexie (Lola DeVillers) is the sexpot of the bunch who changes husbands like car owners change sets of tires – though her change-outs come with a lot more self-absorbed drama.

+ Dinah (Donna Johnson) is the calculator, an attorney who has figured everything out, with a cocktail shaker close at hand.

+ Vernadette (Jamie Buesing) is Murphy’s Law on the hoof, yet with a cheery demeanor about her prison-prone son and her array of injuries.

+ Jeri Neal (Lori Wier) has traded in a Roman Catholic nun’s habit for a new, yet faithful, outlook on life and motherhood.

Each character has personal dramas that the others pick up on and sympathize with – or pick on and tease unmercifully about in that’s-what-friends-are-for ways.

Layered into the performances are Southern accents of the characters, helping the play feel of the South.

The setting of the beach cottage is fairly simple. A few doo-dads give the feel of the place, and that’s all that’s necessary because the focus is on the women and their stories.

The playwrights – honed in TV sitcoms – have a knack for one liners:

On Jeri Neal’s fashion choice for a job interview: A dress makes her look “like a hooker with a stolen handbag.”

Lexie, on herself: “Just because I’m vain and frivolous doesn’t mean I’m shallow.”

Vernadette, on herself as she responds to a comment that her life with deadbeat kids is like a country music song: “Yes, and the hits keep on coming.”

Being a play with/about women, men take some whacks. A few lines: “I never knew what true happiness was until I got married” (meaning happiness ended). “That’s the trouble with husbands. They say they’ll die for you, but they never do.” But the women take plenty of whacks at each other and their foibles, too, so the proceedings aren’t one-sided.

“The Dixie Swim Club” is one of those plays that unloads laughs galore but slips life lessons into the festive fabric. The audience comes away with something.

In this case, the play also is well-played.

***

Creative: Playwrights – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten; director – Stuart Champeau; set designer – Lola DeVillers; dialect coach – Ginger Auld; stage managers – Keri Grimsley, Chris Milton

Cast: Sheree Hollinger – Pamela Johnson; Lexie Richards – Lola DeVillers; Dinah Grayson – Donna Johnson; Vernadette Simms – Jamie Buesing; Jeri Neal McFeeley – Lori Wier

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6-7, 13, 14; 1 p.m. Oct. 8, 4 p.m. Oct. 15

Info: (920) 818-0816

***

VENUE: The performance takes place on a rectangular stage raised one foot from the floor of the gathering room in Sturgeon Bay Jaycee Hall. Seating is on folding chairs. The floor is of square, green and white tiles, the walls faux-wood paneling, the dropped ceiling of white tiles. On the opposite end of the space from the stage is a bar for concessions. The box office is a table at the entrance of the hall. On one wall is a display of Rogue Theater productions over time. The space is not a theater but now is of the theater.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My new books, “Three Miles Past Lost and in the Pickers” and “Nickolaus and Olive – a naïve opera (in words),” are available online and in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum, Bosse’s and The Reader’s Loft.


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