Friday, May 9, 2014

Five actresses set fire to Midland's "The Dixie Swim Club"

Debbie Lake, left, and Denyse Clayton

review and photographs by janet i. martineau

High school days. Career changes. Medical issues. Marriages… multiple ones. Children. Grandchildren. Aging. Breast lifts and implants. Martinis … multiple ones. Petty squabbles. Not so petty squabbles. Hurricanes. Health food. Homemade biscuits…

In two wonderful hours, the five actresses in the Midland Center for the Arts production of "The Dixie Swim Club" will tug at you in every which way in a PG-13 script that delivers the goods on nostalgia, friendship, and life's twists and turns. The show opens tonight (May 9).

The premise of the script is five southern high school friends who were on a swim team together have, each year sense graduation, gathered for an August weekend at a beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In its four scenes we spend time with them at ages 44, 49, 54 and 77.

They are:

-- Sheree, played by Debbie Lake of Saginaw – a health food fanatic and over organizer.

-- Dinah, played by Susie Polito of Midland  – a high-powered lawyer who never saw the need to be a mother.

-- Lexi, played by Denyse Clayton of Midland – a multi-married woman so so in love, with herself.
From left, Polito, Winans-Bagnall, Lake and Clayton

-- Jeri, played by Trina Winans-Bagnall of Midland – a nun without much sense of fashion.

--  Vernadette, played by Jeanne Gilbert of Bay City –  best described as a hypochondriac with out-of-control children.

If you know anything about community theater in Midland, or for that matter mid-Michigan, these are five of the most talented actresses we have. And from the get-go they do not disappoint in this ensemble piece extraordinaire.

Every voice inflection, every body movement, every word out of their mouth is pure character. No one delivers better than the others. Their characters ARE long-time friends and everything that entails. 

And in the final scene, which we will not discuss in this review nor which are we showing in the pictures published with this review (but will publist at the end of the run), they elevate their performances into the stratosphere. 

But, then, everything else about this show is perfect as well.

The script by Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten is insightful, funny, poignant, filled with solid one-liners, serves up great arguments, is “clean.” 

What we enjoyed the most is whenever one or more of the women is out of sight, she is fair gossip game for the rest gathered on the front porch, which is where all the action takes place. Loving and concerned gossip, of course. Well, sometimes.

Director Adam Gardner's impact is all over the production. Nice tableaus and movement. Swift pacing. Detail, detail, detail. An evenhanded direction of five powerful actresses.

And the set and costuming are a riot of color. Greenish cabin with the orange glow of the sky in the background. Four costuming changes for each woman and in one case more. A wonderfully angled set with several levels.

Even the between-scenes action is fun as the set decorations are changed. A screen is lowered and projected are old-time slides of women's swim teams as well as clever  pictures taken of the cast  indicating the progression of their character's lives.

In watching the show, this reviewer felt the cast members were so into their characters and the whole atmosphere so real that more than once she just so badly wanted to join in on the conversation.

For more pictures:

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