Be sure to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before diving into the Alhambra Theatre & Dining’s new production of “The Dixie Swim Club.” There’s a good chance you’ll laugh so hard at this hilarious comedy, you’ll get a stitch in your side.
Fortunately for Alhambra patrons, the theater offers a brief respite following its popular dinner service before plunging into this hysterical play about five Southern women and the strong friendship they’ve maintained since they first met decades ago on their college swim team. Every August, the women meet for a weekend reunion on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where they kick back, catch up and get real with one another as only true, lifelong friends can.
“Dixie Swim Club” kicks off when the women are in their forties, and as they arrive for their annual retreat, the group dynamics are quickly established. As the self-appointed leader, Sheree is a classic Type A organizer and health fanatic whose need to micromanage every aspect of these annual weekends goes over about as well as the inedible, healthy snacks she foists on her friends each year. Dinah is a successful, single career woman who proves an able foil for Lexie, a self-absorbed cougar working on her third divorce. Rounding out the club are Jeri Neal – who became a nun after college – and sad sack Vernadette, who never lets the black cloud that perpetually hovers over her life dampen her dry wit.
As the audience follows this devoted quintet for more than 30 years, they revel in the women’s joys and share in their sorrows. It’s hard to be sad, though, when spending time with the ladies of the “Dixie Swim Club,” whose prowess in the pool is exceeded only by their ability to fire off one, sidesplitting one-liner after another. So strong is the chemistry among the Alhambra’s cast and so natural is their repartee that it’s easy to believe these women really have been friends for decades.
Actress Morgan Fairchild – well-known for her roles on such popular TV shows as “Dallas,” “Falcon Crest” and “Friends” – first performed at the Alhambra back in the 1970s in “The Seven Year Itch.” She returns for the theater’s 50th anniversary season as the lovely, lustful Lexie. And while the role offers her ample opportunity to showcase her considerable comedic talents, Fairchild also excels at communicating the subtle sadness lurking just beneath the surface of Lexie’s comely exterior.
As Sheree, Vickie Daignault does a fine job portraying that friend we all have who’s happiest calling all the shots, but you love her anyway. Alhambra regulars Lisa Valdini and Patti Eyler are also in fine form, with Valdini’s Jeri Neal experiencing the most dramatic life changes and Eyler’s Dinah serving as the group’s anchor, keeping these swim sisters moored tightly together as they weather storms – both literal and figurative – through the passing years.
For sheer comic relief, however, Brooks Anne Hayes Meierdierks is a standout. As the unlucky Vernadette, Meierdierks had the audience in stitches every time she opened her mouth. Vernadette’s wry observations on the train wreck that is her life are so hilarious, in fact, that they make the play’s bittersweet ending even more poignant.
“Dixie Swim Club” runs through Sept. 24 at the Alhambra Theatre & Dining. Take the plunge and see it if you can.