Artfully Edmonds Review: Susan Connors takes the Tony in ‘Dixie Swim Club’

Susan Connors turns in a superb performance in "Dixie Swim Club" now playing at The Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Ave.
Susan Connors turns in a superb performance in “Dixie Swim Club” now playing at The Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Ave.

The Phoenix Theatre
9673 Firdale Ave.

Dixie Swim Club
Directed by Simone Barron
Play written by Jessie Jones
   Nicholas Hope & James Wooten

It’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday and the usual crowd bustles in. . . as oldies music was piped into the lobby of The Phoenix Theatre (Phoenix) last night, Artfully Edmonds claimed a seat in row C to take in Dixie Swim Club — the perennial-comedy theatre’s current production, directed by local theatre talent Simone Barron.

With the watch words of “togetherness” and “team,” the Phoenix troupe pulled off a fine production and sprinkled surprising updates on their loyal fan base.

Dixie Swim Club, written by the same team of writers who brought us Golden Girls, follows a five-member college swim team over a 50-year period. These are team members who seemingly have nothing in common other than their shared swim team experience and team loyalty; but stay together over the years to dish out frank (and always funny) critiques, left-handed compliments and most of all, to offer empathy and support to one another.

Director Barron chose wisely in her cast selection for Dixie Swim Club: Anne-Marie Lake plays the role of athletically-built swim team captain Sheree; Jeannine Early is cast as Jeri Neal, the nun who turns from nunnery to motherhood through her character’s evolution; Bonnie Ronan vamps back and forth across the stage as husband-collector Lexie; the star-crossed Vernadette, whose buffoonery costuming in Act Two brought down the house, is played by Melanie Calderwood; and Susan Connors, who takes on the role successful attorney and benefactor, Dinah. The cast moved effortlessly through the various set changes with true swim team precision – the chemistry worked.

The Phoenix performed Dixie Swim Club to its first audience this past Thursday at an open dress rehearsal, and formally launched the production this past Friday, so we were seeing the third production of (for some audience members) non-stop laughter. The play was heavily laugh-tracked by the full house.

Although some companies choose to pair the play’s poignant moments with a slower dialogue pace and down-home Southern music to produce tear-jerker interludes, director Barron and sound design technician Megan McKay decided on a more contemporary full-out comedy structure for the Phoenix production. If what they say is true, “Laughter is the best medicine,” Barron dialed in to that channel as the audience got a glimpse of the downward spiral and dizzying heights of each character’s life.

The best insight moment came with Lexie’s (Bonnie Ronan) line mournfully delivered, “I’m not young anymore,” after the saucy seductress has had every gravity-defying procedure performed over the 50-year span of the storyline.

Melanie Calderwood delivered “the biscuit” monologue in spectacular fashion (no wardrobe pun intended) after one flicker-moment of steeling herself for her character’s Scarlett O’Hara-style proclamation that, “There will always be biscuits on my table” and something about “cold dead hands” – OK, now we know there’s a biscuit oven waiting in heaven for Vernadette/Melanie.

Throughout the production, the mood swells and settles as a storm moves toward the Carolina Outer Banks and the friends meet in their later years. But a storm is also swelling in the lives of the characters as Lexie takes an opportunity to confide in Dinah (Susan Connors) a very personal struggle that eclipses her problems with hanging on to husbands.

The Artfully Edmonds “Tony Award” goes to Susan Connors for the strongest performance, characterization and lines delivered smoothly. The cast folded in expertly as Conner’s role transitions at the end of the play. Connors was last profiled by My Edmonds News in November.

For fans of Golden Girls, The Phoenix Theatre, and funny lines – Dixie Swim Club’s production team gets a trophy. Highly recommended.

– – –

Phoenix Notes

Artistic Director Melanie Calderwood took the opportunity in her program message to provide an update on the eve of the theatre’s ninth season.

“[Managing Director] Christine Mosere has moved away to be closer to her family. Christine brought her many talents to our family, and played a leading part in our tremendous growth.”

Calderwood continues with, “Fortunately another change is the wonderful people who are stepping up to take a more active role at The Phoenix Theatre. Long-time regulars, such as Susan Connors and Dan Jacoby, as well as more recent ‘acquisitions’ who have already become well know here both on and off the stage, such as J. Woody Lotts. . . Megan McKay, Liz Adkisson, Lisa Werner and others have all not only offered to help us continue bringing joy and laughter to the community, but are also bringing in fresh ideas for sustained growth.”

Newly-named House Manager Dan Jacoby announced – to resounding audience approval – ticket availability for the theatre’s ninth season, which opens Oct. 7 with Moon Over Buffalo, and is directed by local theatre talent Eric Lewis.

Tickets for the 2016-2017 Season are now available by calling The Phoenix Theatre box office at 206-533-2000. For more information about theatre that specializes in “comedy without all the drama,” go to the Phoenix website.

— By Emily Hill

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