THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Bay City Players Witty Comedy Examines the Enduring Power of Friendship
Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre, From Issue 816 By: Robert E Martin
24th September, 2015 0
Southern culture, profound human connection, and a propensity for plastic surgery are only a few of the threads running through The Dixie Swim Club – a warm-hearted, frequently witty, and expertly crafted plunge into the estrogen ocean that comprises the first show of the 2015 season for Bay City Players that will run from October 2-4 and 9-11th.
Under the direction of Debbie Lake and assistant director Audrey Lewis, the cast of Dixie Swim Club consists of five divergent women portraying five diverse friends that first bonded on their college swim team and continue to gather together each August for a weekend get-away from their respective careers and families.
Written by the prolific comedy team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten (collectively known as Jones Hope Wooten) the arc of the storyline follows these five women through different stages of their lives as bond for their annual long weekend at a secluded cottage in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
While the plot borrows elements of Steel Magnolias, Same Time Next Year and has a dash of Designing women thrown in for good measure, this quickly paced two-hour show begins 20 years after the five women’s college graduation when they are all 44-years old and follows them five years later at age 49, picking up at age 54, and concluding when they gather together at age 77, covering a span of 33 years.
There's spunky team captain Sheree (performed by Sarah Greene), whose horrible "healthy" hors d'oeuvres usually end up being spit into a flower pot; sexy Lexie (Laurene Franjione), who relies on plastic surgery to stay young as she works her way through a series of husbands; elegant Dinah (Susan Meade), a lawyer with a fondness for martinis who has eschewed family for career; acerbic Vernadette (Judy Harper), a hard-luck sort with a small bladder and a habit of getting injured; and quiet Jeri Neal (Ellen Finney), a one-time nun who surprises everyone by giving up her vows when she decides she wants a child.
The team of Debbie Lake and Audrey Lewis have directed at least nine plays over the years in Frankenmuth, Midland, and at Pit & Balcony, with Dixie Swim Club being their first outing at Bay City Players. “We work well as team and while we don’t have similar personalities, we get along well. Audrey is the disciplinarian,” explains Debbie.
When asked what she feels distinguishes this production best, Debbie points to the obvious. “I like this work because it’s about five women and I am drawn to plays that are women oriented. As women get older its hard to find plays that fit comfortably, because so many are written for ingénues,” she reflects. “Plus it is very funny and has the speed of a sitcom, with the lines coming on top of one another. But what I really like about this play is that it also takes a turn towards the poignant in the end, as it follows the journey of these women over the decades.”
Debbie notes how she is also drawn by the dynamics of character represented by each of these women. “Sheree is the team captain and the organizer of these annual gatherings and still maintains that façade, even many years since she’s been off the college team,” explains Debbie. “She’s very energetic and still in charge of all the girls – kind of the Mother Hen in that sense.”
“Dinah is a lawyer and the most intelligent and calmer one in the group. She’s very elegant and more of an observer, but very sarcastic,” continues Debbie. “Lexie is the sexpot and has been through many marriages and Jenny is a nun – very sheltered and sweet that never says anything bad about anyone, whom the other girls tend to make fun of. Finally, Vernadette is the hard luck case – a black cloud hovers over her wherever she goes. She is not happily married but has a couple of wonderful children, so a broad pallet of elements are there to work within these characters.”
Debbie says that 15 actors showed up for cast auditions and feels strong about the five women selected for these roles. “We got the right ones and this play is all about the casting – getting the right people to draw out the dynamics. I think as a Director its more challenging to do comedy than drama, because with comedy the blocking and movement is very essential. If an actor isn’t hitting the line a certain way or facing the audience a certain way, things can fall flat. We have five people on the set the entire play and moving them around and keeping it interesting to the audience is of paramount importance. This kind of comedy has to move fast.”
Are there any themes or elements within the script that Debbie & Audrey are trying to bring out and emphasize? “Each of these characters are so definite that for us to put something on top of that would be superfluous,” states Audrey. “Plus we don’t want the characters to become caricatures,” adds Debbie. “It’s easy to do that in this kind of a play, so we are trying to keep them all at one level. When one is too far up or down we tell them to move to the same page, because this is truly an ensemble show. Each of these five women have their moment in the sun and get their time to shine.”
“We have a great team assembled for this production,” continues Debbie. “Mike Wisniewski is doing the stage design and I like working with smaller casts because I like to be able to spend time with the actors and help each actor develop their character. If a cast is too big it’s hard to give individual attention to people that might need it.”
“When the play begins all the characters are in their 40s and still full of pep and vim and vinegar, but as they age and return to gather in the last scene the cottage is desolate,” concludes Debbie. “They haven’t been there in a long time and come back to say goodbye to the cottage, because they have some other new place they are renting, as the old cottage is closed down, so it ends on a poignant note.”
“What I like is that this play isn’t a farce – the situations and dialogue flow from each character and even though it’s about women, the appeal of this production is targeted towards a broad audience. Our costume director Joy Butler has to age the ladies and stick in the style of each period, and we don’t have time for make-up changes, so mostly this is done with dress and wigs, which is also challenging.”
“Over the years, as the women’s’ lives change in sometimes unexpected ways, they continue to lean on and peck at one another; and we see these gatherings are a safe harbor in the often confusing currents of their lives.”
Perhaps the groups’ old swim-team motto perhaps sums it up best; and also serves as a metaphor for the enduring power of friendship: ‘The faster we swim, the sooner we win!’
Bay City Players production of ‘The Dixie Swim Club’ will run from October 2-4 and 9-11. Showtimes are 8:00 PM Friday & Saturday and 3:00 PM Sunday. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students. If you purchase 3 tickets you can get one ticket for free. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Bay City Players website at www.baycityplayers.com or phoning 989-893-5555.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)