Mesa Encore Theatre (MET) opened The Dixie Swim Club at their intimate Black Box on Brown venue last night to a laughing, tearing-up, even whooping audience. Five talented Arizona actresses, buoyed by smart dialogue and healthy direction explored the complex simplicities of common gender roles that women assume.
As the story goes, five Southern women, whose friendships began years ago on their college swim team, set aside a long weekend every August to meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The play focuses on four of those weekends, spanning a period of thirty-three years. The audience was prepared to meet athletic, success-fueled, college grads.
Instead, with intentional stereotypic detail, each entered. First, a spunky, rules-and-schedule-freak Sheree (Donna Georgette), and Lexie (Sharon Yormick)–an oversexed, vanity-driven, frequent divorcée were introduced. Then wise-cracking, workaholic Dinah (Donna Kaufman), a martini-loving, powerhouse attorney arrived at the cottage. Next came self-deprecating, wildly unlucky and financially-challenged Vernadette (Katibelle Collins) whose albatrosses were her lazy husband and felonious kids. Finally, naive and mildly ding-batty Jeri Neal (Heidi Carpenter) marched in to the beat of her own very unconventional drummer.
From the moment she appeared, Collins’ believable comfort with Vernadette’s brash wit was the most consistent strength of the evening. With zinging accuracy and comedic timing, she unapologetically exposed both her own sorry lot and her teammates’ shortcomings. The most memorable monologue of the evening was, hands down, her full two-minute biscuit rant.
Likewise, the innocently befuddled Jeri Neal that Carpenter created was an endearing show asset. Whether teetering precariously in inappropriate stiletto heels, recounting her days as a nun, or whispering laughably erotic role play suggestions into her cell phone, Carpenter’s quirky Jeri Neal was a delight.
Further, Georgette’s final nostalgic scene was particularly well-played, as was Kaufman’s creation of vulnerable, insecure femininity, and Yormick’s frightened solitude in the face of illness. Interestingly, the most strongly depicted traits of all five characters were female qualities that are oft-considered those most socially acceptable. That is, good-natured suffering, the classic airhead, the nurturer, downplaying potentially threatening strengths, and brave silence all garner at least knowing if not approving nods toward women in our culture.
Even more fascinating were the moments during which the action hesitated or a scene faltered. For instance, Yormick’s verisimilitude was shakiest when she strove to bring out Lexie’s most egotistical or promiscuous traits. Dinah’s ravenous, self-assured appetite for success and status seemed to lack conviction on occasion. Even Sheree’s bossy oversight of the group was not always convincing.
A collective message began to take shape. To slip into the skin of a female who is confident in non-traditional or less socially acceptable roles is extremely difficult…..even for actresses, those most practiced and educated in assuming alternate identities.
As happens most always with a theater production, these five, fine actresses will no doubt grow in their roles and stage relationships as the run continues. It is well worth exploring Dixie Swim Club with them. So too perhaps, women in general will continue to grow and feel more comfortable in their own true, atypical skins.