Spouses and children are all well and good, but when push comes to shove you can always rely on the friends of your youth.
That’s the message of “The Dixie Swim Club,” which chronicles the half-century-long relationship of five Southern women who met and bonded on their college swim team.
Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten’s comedy, now on the boards at the New Theatre Restaurant, borrows a page or three from such successes as “Golden Girls,” “Same Time Next Year” and “Steel Magnolias.”
But bless its sitcom little heart, this show features diverting comic performances from top-billed Morgan Fairchild and a quartet of some of Kansas City’s finest actresses of a certain age. Even when the material feels a bit iffy these veterans — under the capable direction of Dennis Hennessy — sell it.
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The results may not be particularly deep, but they are certainly entertaining.
The play has four scenes covering 33 years and unfolds in a rental beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks where the gal pals converge every August.
Sheree (Cheryl Weaver), the former captain of the swim team, still calls the shots, producing detailed schedules of shared entertainments. She’s also a health food freak whose nutritious but unpalatable homemade snacks inevitably end up fertilizing a potted plant.
Lexie (Fairchild) is a man-eating vamp who invariably is either hooking up with a new fella or on the rebound from an old one. Defying her age (when we first encounter these women they’re in their mid 40s), she employs plastic surgery to fight what one of her cronies describes as “an uphill battle with gravity.” She is more than a little vain.
Dinah (Cathy Barnett) is a single woman and a driven lawyer. Perhaps her legal training explains her ability to instantly detect and deflate any nonsense dished by her peers. Beneath her good ol’ gal exterior she’s also the most sophisticated of the bunch,
Vernadette (Debra Bluford) is the most plebeian. Her son has a rapidly expanding criminal record; her husband is nothing to write home about. No wonder her survival mechanisms include witheringly dry put downs and hysterical down-home observations.
Finally there’s naively upbeat Jeri Neal (Jennifer Mays), who after college became a nun. Now she surprises her friends by showing up eight months pregnant. Turns out motherhood trumps holy sisterhood.(Not to worry...the child was conceived by artificial insemination).
These all-girl vacations are fun, sure, but also therapeutic. They’re an opportunity to get it all off their chests: fear of aging, their bad/indifferent/failed romances and deep-seated rivalries all fueled by copious servings of dry martinis.
It’s not entirely frivolous. The final scene, set when the women are in their 70s, addresses topics like dementia and death, and the awareness that their time together is limited allows “Dixie Swim Club” to exit on a note of bittersweet grace.
Everyone’s good, but top comic honors go to Bluford, whose Vernadette gets the lion’s share of laugh lines whether dissing her hubby (“I never knew what true happiness was until I got married. But by then it was too late”) or advising her friends to trade in their treadmills for stretch pants and a deep fat fryer.
She also gets the evening’s single best bit of dialogue, a spirited monologue about homemade biscuits, the homogenization of Southern culture and the loss of regional identity. She should get used to a huge ovation every time she delivers it.
“The Dixie Swim Club” continues through July 2 at the New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster in Overland Park. See newtheatre.com or call 913-649-7469.