Take a group of close-knit women friends who bond early in life, add a heartfelt vow to meet every year for a girls’ weekend, add the usual conflicts that can occur between lifelong buddies, toss in the joys and woes that life can bring including children, divorce and illness — and underscore the whole thing with a whole bunch of cheerful y’alls. That’s the premise of “The Dixie Swim Club,” a serviceable if not exactly standout member of what I think of as the “Southern sisterhood genre.”
The Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre isn’t as crisp or appealing as last year’s “Dearly Beloved” by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, the same authors. (I cringe a little at the idea of three writing credits; it makes me think of it as playwriting as a committee.) While “Beloved” reveled in the quirky eccentricities of small-town folksiness, “Dixie Swim Club” is content to float along somewhat lazily to the conventions of the genre.
The writing in the first act is weaker than the second. The characters are in their mid-40s as the play begins, and as each makes an individual entrance into the beach house they share annually, it’s hard not to think of those characters as stock. There’s Sheree (Valerie Munoz), the prim organizer of the group and former captain of the college swim team, who arrives every year with nasty-tasting health-food appetizers. We meet the much-married Lexie (Tina Coppock), a sexy cougar type who’s never met a plastic surgery she didn’t like. Dinah (Elizabeth Stoeckel) is the requisite career gal — not enough time for a social life — who’s always looking for her next cocktail. The hapless Vernadette (Karan Johnson) is the endearing misfit of the group, plagued with bad luck but blessed with a generous disposition. And then there’s Jeri Neal (Lori Hickey), the naive one who became a nun, who has a big surprise for her friends.
The biggest problem with the script, however — and it’s a flaw which Denise Graziani’s direction isn’t able to smooth over — is the general lack of chemistry between these “friends” in the opening scene. We’re supposed to get a feel for these women’s deep connections, but it doesn’t come off. Do these women even genuinely like each other? Certainly, there will be lots of opportunity for conflict between old friends. But the folksy sit-com banter has a degree of brittleness to it that made me wonder: Why do these characters even bother getting together every year?
Thankfully, the show perks up in the second act as the years go by and the awkward exposition recedes and a stronger, more dramatic storyline takes over. Stoeckel and Coppock have some nice acting moments together, and Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s costumes ably help the audience register the passage of time. Overall, however, the play remains stubbornly generic.