Wisecracks flow in ‘Dixie Swim Club’

Lou Smith thinks “The Dixie Swim Club” will be the “Steel Magnolias” for 2010 audiences.

There are many similarities between the two shows including the wise-cracking women characters.

In “The Dixie Swim Club,” the women have been friends for years and talk about everything in their lives.

Susan Dolan, who is playing Sheree, said the play is like a combination of “Steel Magnolias,” “The Golden Girls” and “Designing Women.”

Actor Jean Morris had seen the play when she lived in Highlands, N.C. Then she and several of the would-be cast went to see it in West Point, Ga., at the New Horizons Theater.

The five women, who will star in the show opening Friday, called Smith and said, “We have a cast and a play. Would you direct it?”

They even had a venue — St. George’s Anglican Church Parish Hall, 427 First Ave., Columbus.

Smith decided he’d better agree to direct the play because one of the five women was his wife, Carlyn.

And that’s how Smith’s theater company, the Vagabond Players, decided to present the Columbus premiere of “The Dixie Swim Club.”

For Smith, it’s the first time he has directed a play that he has not written.

The play features five characters, Sheree (Dolan), Vernadette (Morris), Dinah (Carlyn Smith), Lexie (Sandy Dawson) and Jeri (Bonnie Hagerty), who met in college as members of the swim team.

The characters age from 44-77, and the actors joke that they’re closer in age to 77 than 44.

After graduation, the women decided to meet at a beach cottage every August to catch up with what’s happened in their lives in the year before.

The play highlights four weekend gatherings spanning over half a century. The first time featured weekend takes place 22 years after graduation, the second outing is five years later. After intermission, the audience gets a peek at life 10 years after graduation and the final scenes are 23 years after.

The most difficult part of doing this play is going from 77 to 44 in a flashback scene, Carlyn Smith said.

In real life, the five women are good friends.

That helps, Morris says, to play characters who are old friends. And Dolan is happy to be able to participate in a play that is written for older actors.

In the end, Dawson said the play is an intimate one that “makes you laugh and makes you cry.”

While director Smith calls it a PG-13 kind of play, “you have to have some life experience behind you” to appreciate this.

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