Full disclosure? I’ve been working with this production since the beginning. I started as the Assistant Director and was promoted to Co-Director by my theatre buddy Amy D. I’m so proud of this cast and what they were able to create despite a shortened rehearsal schedule (they had 4 weeks and 3 days as compared to the usual 6 week process). Is it possible for me to give an unbiased review? Probably not. So I decided to take the Faux News approach and just call it “fair and balanced” and then just say whatever I want to. There may be a couple of spoilers that appear below, but thems the breaks. Enjoy!
This is a story about friendship. Five women meet on their college swim team and remain friends for their entire lives. This story probably sounds familiar, and it should – this show is not the first of it’s kind and probably won’t be the last. Stories of enduring friendship are perennially popular, and if the crowded houses at the Fire Hall Theatre last weekend and last night are any indication, this production is no exception. The characters will also seem familiar. There’s Sheree (Trish McGuire), the methodical team captain who always has a plan – and a schedule; Lexie (Melody Colucci), the libidinous vixen always on the prowl for her next ex-husband; Vernadette (Cary McMahon), the hard luck case brimming with sassy comebacks; Dinah (Erin Hendrickson), the business woman with ambition and a ready martini shaker; and Jeri Neal (Mare Thompson), the perpetual ray of sunshine who’s always ready with a smile or a piece of homespun advice. Although each of these women exists as a “type,” the actors in this show do a great job of given them nuance and complexity so that each woman is dynamic, relatable, and pretty darn funny.
This show is a great comedy about the power of lifelong friendships, with a southern flair. It’s a little bit Steel Magnolias with a little bit of Fried Green Tomatoes, and a dash of Sex and the City thrown in for spice. No matter what the world might dish out to them in their personal lives, their romantic entanglements, or their careers, they always have each other, and each other’s backs. The five women sustain their bond by meeting at the same beach cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina every August. McGuire’s Sheree is the ultimate taskmaster, acting as architect of their weekend retreats. She always tries to prepare for every circumstance but sometimes the other women (or Mother Nature) just can’t help throwing a wrench into the works. McGuire displays a great playful exasperation as she attempts to steer the weekend activities, a feat often not unlike herding cats.
Colucci is slinky and flirty as sexpot Lexie, perpetually falling in and out of love – and marriage – with little more than a sigh and a pout. After all, the next man is never much further than the next dune over. Her exploits are viewed by her less experienced friends with a mixture of admiration, consternation, and amusement. While newly married Jeri Neal is hoping that Lexie can share some risqué pointers for the bedroom and workaholic Dinah is looking for advice on snaring a man of her own without interrupting her busy schedule, Sheree has had just about enough of the Lexie’s form of communication with men. Colucci does a great job playing flirty and light but really gets to play with some fun material when the tension in the group comes to a boil and Lexie decides to let it slip that Sheree isn’t the perfect hostess she imagines herself to be.
Vernadette has some of the best comic moments in the show, and McMahon is a scene stealer whether she’s hobbling around on crutches in a ridiculous outfit you’ll have to see to believe, egging the girls on during a fight to further her own entertainment, or giving a speech worthy of Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women about the importance of biscuits not only as a comfort food but as a symbol of southern life and culture. But despite her seemingly endless supply of witty zingers, Vernadette has a couple of real “punch you in the gut” poignant moments – don’t’ for a second believe she’s just a witty comeback with no heart! She plays extremely well next to Hendrickson’s Dinah who is equal parts sugar and spice as she puts away more than a few martinis and cuts to the heart of any situation. Hendrickson brings a slow, genteel quality to the no-nonsense character, making it all the more entertaining when she hurls a well-timed one-liner. And Thompson’s Jeri Neal rounds out the bunch, smiling her way through every situation and offering up more than a heaping helping of Granny McFeely’s homespun advice; when her humor does go to a dark or sarcastic place, Thompson’s sunshine-y portrayal doesn’t stay there long and Jeri Neal ends up acting as peacemaker when the other women boil over.
I could go on and on about how fabulous these women are (and probably should!), but I think you get the picture. I could also gush on and on about how gorgeous the set is (after all, yours truly designed and dressed it, with my accomplice Amy D!), but instead I thought I’d give you some “behind the scenes” info about how the set came to be and some of the backstory behind the props and costumes.
First, I should acknowledge that my bestie Angie and my webmistress extraordinaire Nat are professional dumpster divers. Every cleanup week they troll the alleys looking for discarded treasures and well-loved items in need of a little rehab to be given new life. Usually they leave me a little diorama in my yard of the strangest things they find on their adventures (and let me just say Grand Forks residents: you throw out some weird shit!). This year, I decided to join them on one of their excursions, hoping to find an item or two that we might be able to use for the show. I found a bunch of things; in fact, most of the set props and a good number of the pieces of furniture were dumpster finds. The program should have had a special thank you to the people of Grand Forks for throwing away such good stuff so that I didn’t have to pay for it at a thrift store! If you come to the show and you see something that looks kinda familiar, know we appreciate your support – and NO, you cannot have it back! Finders keepers, bitches…
One of my favorite finds was a storage bench that I’m guessing was used as a toy box. It was painted a rather aggressive dark blue, but we slapped on some white and peach paint, gave it an adorable “Life is better at the beach” accent pillow and voila! Not only did we have a useful set piece for the ladies to set bags and purses as they entered the beach cottage, the storage compartment gave us a place to hide props during scene changes! And see that strange lawn chair that looks like it was crocheted? That was another dumpster find. We were hoping to use it as part of a rather elaborate outdoor space we had planned for behind the screen door where the actors enter and exit, but there were too many time and material barriers to be able to really create the look we wanted. I just hated to lose this odd little chair, so it became a little decorative touch tucked up behind the bench.
Our bar shelf is another great find. I was on the lookout for whicker to dress up the cottage and I came across one of those over the toilet shelves. We broke the legs off, painted it white with coral accent color on the doors of the little cupboard shelf, and we had the perfect place to stick our barware, napkins, and olives!
Finally, I’m a huge fan of “easter eggs” and I love to put one or two on every set I work on. Even though maybe no one but me will notice it, I get a little giggle knowing it’s there. At the very beginning, Sheree enters, singing along to the radio and is straightening up the bar area and putting away glasses. There are three romance novels that she stacks and puts on the end of the bar, one of which is Daddy by Danielle Steele. Later, the women mention that their swim team coach is also Sheree’s father-in-law, and that book is a little nod to that. Something you might never notice! So when you see the show, be on the lookout for little details like that…you never know what little goodies and inside jokes we might have built in!
The Dixie Swim Club is sold out for tonight’s performance as well as next Thursday (though it doesn’t hurt to try lurking in the lobby to catch last minute cancellations!), and Friday and Saturday are selling fast – so get your tickets now so you can travel to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and delight in this heartfelt celebration of the power of friendship!
Tags: Amy Driscoll, C. J. Leigh, Cary McMahon, Chris Stoner, community theatre, Dixie Swim Club, Erin Hendrickson, Fire Hall Theater, Fire Hall Theatre, Firehall Theater, Firehall Theatre, Fried Green Tomatoes, Greater Grand Forks Community Theater, Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre, Janessa, Janessa J, Janessa J Champagne, Janessa Jaye, Janessa Jaye Champagne, Melody Colucci, Melody MaCarthy, Miss J, Miss Jaye, North Carolina, Outer Banks, Sex and the City, Steel Magnolias, World of Champagne