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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: ‘The Dixie Swim Club’ touches funnybone, heart in Tisch Mills

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Scene from “The Dixie Swim Club” at Forst Inn Theatre, Aug. 7, 2020, with Erin Renae LaFond, from left, Nannette Macy, Lisa Heili, Vicki Svacina and Shannon Paige. (Warren Gerds)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – During a scene change, Jimmy Buffett’s “Margarittaville” is playing in the background as a “maid” bounces along to the music while she changes set pieces. Soon, the audience is singing along…

“Wastin’ away again in Margaritaville
“Searchin’ for my lost shaker of salt
“Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame…”

Like sleight of hand*, the fun of live theater has appeared seemingly out of nowhere.

An eagerness about performing and watching the play “The Dixie Swim Club” filled Forst Inn Theatre for Friday night’s preview presentation. Five more performances lie ahead.

Theater has become a can-do experience for a few troupes in the region… can-do in the face of regulated restrictions and fear caused by the coronavirus COVID-19.

The Forst Inn Arts Collective limits its audience to 25 in its cabaret-style theater. Judging by the spontaneous sing-along, Friday’s 25 were comfortable with the atmosphere of the play and the place.

“The Dixie Swim Club” has a sleight of hand to it. To paraphrase one of the characters, Just because the play in part is frivolous doesn’t mean it’s shallow.

The premise is five teammates from a college swim team regularly reunite for a weekend whoop-dee-do at a seaside resort, and they’re seen in four stages in their lives. At first, they’re light and boozy. Along the way, they grab the heart.

The play is by Jones Hope Wooten – not one person but three – who take an expertise in TV sitcoms and bring it to the stage and blend entertainment with meaning.

Directors Michael Sheeks and Monty Witt finesse a cast of five women who are very familiar with the stage and how to create characters. A sixth character is the set, filled with a casual ocean resort aura. A seventh character is the costuming, notably pieces placed for comedy effect.

Friday’s performance had a rhythm, with important pauses woven in.

The players and their personage: Vicki Svacina is the fussbudget Sheree. Nannette Macy is the multi-married drama queen Lexie. Lisa Heili is the career-driven Diana. Erin Renae LaFond is a living tragic country music song as Vernadette. Shannon Paige is a former nun now spreading her wings as Jeri Neal.

Each character has a running joke or developing story as part of her.

For one, Sheree is a health nut who foists organic snacks on her friends, and they all gag over her “ferret food.”

For another, Vernadette arrives in each scene dealing with some sort of disability – an arm in a sling, a foot in a cast, her neck in a brace or her memory failing.

For another, Lexie is a walking case of hormones who likes guys – lots of them.

The flavor of the play is Southern. All the actors adopt a dialect. References to a Southern lifestyle are woven in. A hurricane rears its head in one scene.

The cast is really good at creating the shadings of friendship – the frivolity, the camaraderie, the snippy tension, the harbored resentments, the caring.

The women are visited at ages 44, 49, 54 and 77. Their stories blossom in four ways.

It’s an excellent play excellently done.

*- Friday night’s performance included a preview for “Wednesday Night Magic,” a series to start in the theater Aug. 26 with professional magician Monty Witt organizing the lineup. My references to “sleight of hand” above are purposeful because Witt is a wonder at it.

***

Creative: Playwrights – Jones Hope Wooten (Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten); directors – Monty Witt and Michael Sheeks; stage manager – Shannon Paige; scenic design and properties – Nannette Macy

Cast

Sheree Hollinger – Vicki Svacina

Lexie Richards – Nannette Macy

Dinah Grayson – Lisa Heili

Vernadette Simms – Erin Renae LaFond

Jeri Neal McFeeley – Shannon Paige

Running time: 2¼ hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 14-15 and 21-22; 2 p.m. Aug. 23

Info: forstinn.org

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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