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By Jesse Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten

Runway Theatre

Director - Kenny Green
Light Design - Jeff Holland
Set Design - Kenny Green
Sound Design - Kenny Green
Costum Design - Amber Holland
Prop Design - Sue Ellen Love
Production Photos - Kris Ikejiri


Sheree Hollinger - Noelle Salter
Dinah Grayson - Sheila D. Rose
Lexie Richards - Laura Sosnowski
Vernadette Simms - Kelly Norman
Jeri Neal McFeeley - Michelle Friedman

Reviewed Performance: 3/23/2019

Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB is not great theatre literature. One should never hold that measure to any of the many plays written by the collaboration of Hope, Wooten and Jones, or HoWoJo as they are fondly known by their many fans. But, in the company of many of their other collaborations, THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB is great entertainment and deserves a place among the annals of American Community Theatre productions. The three playwrights have solid credentials in associated entertainment writing—TV and movies. But together they have created these laugh out loud comedies that depict strong women as they navigate together the travails of life: love, marriage, sex, children, looks and old age. Their stories frequently revolve around, sometimes, lifelong friendships that support their members through temporary squabbles, jealousies, and personal emotional difficulties. Interestingly, there is only one woman in the trio of writers—Jesse Jones. And there is some stereotyping particularly when hooking their famous laugh lines. But, their successful formulas make for a good evening of entertainment for an audience, when successfully paired with a strong, talented, committed cast.

I had not previously seen a production of this particular collaboration, but had long wanted to, especially following my experience as member of a cast of “The Savannah Sipping Society”, another HoWoJo. I think I am glad I waited as I had the pleasure this last Saturday evening of laughing and crying with a top-notch cast of women at Runway Theatre’s production of the “Swim Club”. Per my experience with my “Sipping Sisters”, I’d be willing to bet the five cast members of the Runway show are now good close friends, as I am with my former cast sisters. These shows just bond you that way. That closeness certainly seemed to stream from the stage as we watched these five former college swim team members alternately dance, stumble, cavort and careen through middle life and into their later years. We meet the group as they assemble for their yearly August reunion at a small beach cottage on North Carolina’s
Outer Banks. They shed jobs, husbands, children, responsibilities for this precious time to eat, drink and “catch up” on each other’s lives. Green’s cute little beach house certainly conjures up warmth, waves and sand.

Sheree Hollinger is the former captain of the swim team and the unassailed organizer, delegator and health nut of the group. Each reunion everyone must face her “healthful” snacks and oer d’oeurves that are routinely spit into unsuspecting houseplants by her former teammates who try to avoid hurting Sheree’s feelings by confessing their distaste for them. Noelle Salter gives us the essence of this confident, no frills woman who maintains perfect control until she can no longer deny that her youth is albeit slowly but tellingly becoming a thing of the past, a passage she is not ready to embrace, but reluctant to reveal. Salter is physically and vocally commanding and meets the demands of this role, but easily reveals her fragile, soft side when called upon to do so.

Laura Sosnowski s is seductively hilarious as the determinedly youthful and sexy Lexie Richards, who sails through marriages as quickly as Victoria’s Secret underwear. Her facial expressions mirror her self-absorption and her ability to carry off the physical changes that add to her character are priceless. But, when at last she must come face to face with her greatest challenge, it isn’t age or looks after all, but something much more meaningful. Sosnowski’s progression through the years for Lexie is well-done and her costumes, wigs and “extras” make it even more believable.

Sheila D. Rose’s portrayal of the brassy, confident, take no prisoners lawyer, Dinah Grayson, is strong from her first entrance. She maintains that personae, drink in hand, until we are taken aback at her final admission, though only made to one of the others, that the veneer of her satisfaction at her no-husband, no children life is developing some large cracks. How she manages to pour and handle and keep up with all those drinks is amazing but she pulls it off with nary a hitch.

The character to whom the funniest wisecracks are bestowed, Vernadette Simms is deftly handled by Kelly Norman, a true comedienne in her timing and delivery. She is the “Queen of the Smirk” and keeps the audience in stitches with both her physical and vocal delivery. Yet in the last scene we cannot helped but be touched as Vernadette is found to be suffering the indignity of dementia. Here we see Norman’s skillfulness as an actor, carefully weaving the developing frailness of her character withthe still present voice of the wisecracker, diminished but still humorous.

Michelle Friedman rounds out the group as Jerry Neal McFeeley, the once hopelessly naïve and inexperienced swim team member—turned nun who manages in Scene 1 to leave fellow members speechless when she makes her appearance eight months pregnant. Friedman successfully navigates the development of her character through the birth of a child, marriage to a much younger man, child-rearing and as lastly we see her, in her seventies. She is notable as are the others, in making a totally believable transition, physically and vocally into old age.

Costumes help make these transitions memorable as do the wigs and then, of course, the music. All together make for a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre. You won’t often have the opportunity to experience a play this inherently funny performed by five women so enormously talented. Director Kenny Green, you and the group “done good!”

Runway Theatre
215 North Dooley St.
Grapevine, TX 76051

Plays through April 7, 2019
Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 p.m.
Sunday matinees 3:00 p.m.