On Theater: 'Dixie Swim Club' tickles in Newport

Take parts of "Steel Magnolias" and parts of "That Championship Season" — the funny parts only — and that hybrid would pretty much resemble "The Dixie Swim Club," now enjoying its local premiere at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.

Assembled by a trio of writers whose credits include "The Golden Girls" — Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten — "The Dixie Swim Club" follows the misadventures of five ladies, all members of a champion college swim team, in four reunions over a 23-year period, the first set two decades after their graduation.

There's Sheree (Julie Ellis), the disciplined, whistle-tooting organizer; Lexie (Della Lisi), the oversexed, much-married man trap; Dinah (Cheryl Pellerin), the acid-tongued, no-nonsense attorney; Vernadette (Roxanne Martinez), the troubled mom with a son in jail and a daughter in some weird cult; and Jeri Neal (Marla Stone), the nun who shows up for her initial entrance about eight and a half months pregnant.

Director Michael Ross has assembled this quintet with obvious care, creating a well-balanced ensemble. It admittedly goes for the easy laugh on many occasions, but also aims a bull's-eye thrust at the heart when least expected. The material may be on the TV sitcom level, but the performances elevate it considerably.

Ellis is, by a narrow margin, the most impressive of the lot, serving up indigestible health food and refereeing her buddies' flights of fancy. Hers is the task of maintaining order in an atmosphere of chaos, and she succeeds admirably.

The full-figured Lisi uses her physical attributes as exclamation points to her splendid comical characterization of a chronically self-centered woman who's looking for love in all the wrong places. She's loud, raucous and quite stunning in a deliciously funny interpretation.

Pellerin's lady lawyer, tall and semi-stern, cuts an impressive swath in the mixture. Her principal talents are her witty ripostes, which ignite the audience even if they have little effect on her comrades.

Martinez enacts the hard-luck gal, arriving once with her arm in a cast, on crutches a few scenes later, and once even donning a clown suit (her husband has taken the rest of her clothes to keep her home). She also elicits concern in the final segment as her character battles with senility.

As a pregnant nun who's getting out of the habit and back into life, Stone is the least comfortable but one of the most effective. Her awkward attempts to reenter society draw particular empathy, as does her societal contrast to the other four.

All this tumultuous comedy is played out against a brightly hued backdrop designed by Andrew Otero and nicely lit by Mitch Atkins. Costumer Donna Fritsche has come up with some terrific character-defining outfits (particularly in Lisi's case).

"The Dixie Swim Club," apart from being a very funny show, has the added attraction of being new, a play most audience members will be enjoying for the first time. It's an irresistible, fun-filled package at the Newport Theatre Arts Center.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "The Dixie Swim Club"

Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays , 2 p.m. Sundays until April 24

Cost: $20

Contact: (949) 631-0288; or ntaconline.com

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World