IF YOU GO
What: Former collegiate swimmers meet every year at a cottage in the Outer Banks to share memories
When: Tuesday through Sunday evenings with selected matinées through March 9.
Where: 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Fort Myers (in Royal Palm Square)
Cost: $28 to $49.
Information: 239-278-4422 or broadwaypalm.com
Something Else: Ticket prices include meal & show; show-only tickets available
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — "Fiddler on the Roof" is selling out on the main stage of the Broadway Palm. This review is not about that show.
This review is about another show. The one about God's OTHER chosen people.
Namely, Southerners. "Dixie Swim Club" paddles over for big laughs, honest humor and Southern-fried fun.
One of a string of outlandish, slapsticky comedies from the writing team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, "Dixie Swim Club" follows a group of five Southern women who reunite every year on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Bound in sisterhood since their chlorinated collegiate swim team days, the quintet sets aside one weekend each year to be free of husbands, kids and work. Drinks are poured, gossip is dished and biscuits are baked!
The show dips in and out of four August weekends over a period of more than three decades, catching the women at 44, 49, 54 and 77. Love, loss, miscreant children, recalcitrant husbands (and hunky lifeguards), health food, grandkids, plastic surgery, careers, tears, fears and jeers all spill out onto the floor of a charming cornflower blue beach cottage.
Now, for all the husbands reading this and thinking "Oh heck no," relax. If "Dixie" is anything, it is a comedy. One with some shapely ladies who are definitely not anywhere near 44 (you'd be amazed what can be done with wigs) and some rip-snorting jokes.
Want examples? We'll give you one. It even has to do with that heretofore verboten subject that men dare not discuss - premenstrual syndrome. As the show casually (if incorrectly) informs audiences, PMS is mentioned right in the Bible: "Mary rode Joseph's ass all the way to Bethlehem." (The verse, which would be at the beginning of Luke 2, does not actually exist; it is simply an old joke.)
But no one goes to the theatre to study scripture. They go to laugh.
And laugh you will. The show features a nun - Sister Mary Esther (a delightful Jessica Unice) - with a very big surprise. One of the early jokes? "I've seen the woman genuflect when she buys a jar of Miracle Whip!"
Kelly Legarreta brings deadpan comic timing to unlucky in life, love, kids, job and automobiles Vernadette. Duct tape is holding up the bumper on Vernie's truck - and husband Burl hid her clothes - but Vernadette made it to the reunion in her Toodles the Clown costume and crutches! Legarreta holds the gems in this deep-fried dialogue until the very last second on her wonderfully expressive face before oh-so-casually dumping them into the conversation. You'll love Vernadette, even if you wouldn't want her life.
Longtime Broadway Palm favorite Amy Marie McCleary stepped into the role of glamour-puss Lexie less than a week ago. Her confident, sexy, man-hungry character (four husbands and counting!) strides onto the stage with a bare shoulder and a feral grin. I love her saucy attitude and vivacious manner. Sample remarks? "We've got to stay on top of gravity from here on out. I mean, just look at what it's already done to Dinah's chest!"
Kathryn Cintron offers quiet assurance as Sheree, the den mother and putative brains of the group. Cintron's calm, focused style acts as the center of the hormonal hurricane. Broadway Palm newcomer M.L. Graham pours more than vodka as career-oriented Dinah. Graham displays a talent for putting spin on the wisecracks and pulling back in the heartfelt moments. Of course, there are more zingers than hug-it-out moments, like Dinah's holiday memories: "Every time I got a doll for Christmas, I'd sell it to the highest bidder for cash."
Director Paul Bernier does a solid job in juggling the need for constant pace against an attempt to make the show more than just five women in a room trading jokes. Bernier and his cast wring plenty laughs and a few moments of breathtakingly honest truth from the show.
Admittedly, the premise of "Dixie" is thin; the show isn't much more than a few super-sized episodes of "The Golden Girls." You can practically tick the boxes: birth, hurricane, screeching catfight and illness. Biscuits stand in for cheesecake. There are worse things though. And a Southern accent makes it sound so cute, don't 'cha know?
The late cast change obviously upset the show's balance. The "Dixie" ensemble needs to feel like five friends lounging in a cottage, sipping drinks, dishing about their lives and enjoying the freedom of no bras. The rhythms of the show aren't quite there yet; audiences can see the bricks and mortar of lines and blocking as scenes fall into place.
While the show is well cast with thespians that suit their characters, I wish just a little more effort had gone into creating characters that started the show at age 44 and then moved toward age 77. The wigs and costumes alone don't always communicate the passage of time as strongly as the script demands.
Ladies - of any age - will love the girls of "Dixie Swim Club" as the gather to gripe, gossip and take a gander at the guys on the beach. Menfolk will like the wisecracks, the constant flow of silly humor and more than a few tight skirts (and Lexie's boob job in Act Two). Everybody will love the way show blends Southern girl charm with wit, sass and a down-home good time. How can you not root for a show that actually serves up biscuits on stage?
Biscuits and white gravy. Take me home, country road. Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.