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Have Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten Jumped the Shark with “The Dixie Swim Club”?

"The Dixie Swim Club" stars (from left) Donna Rossi-Youngblood, Sandi Sullivan,  JoAnne Dickinson, Kathy Norris, and Suzanne Kennedy (photo by Ron Foreman)

"The Dixie Swim Club" stars (from left) Donna Rossi-Youngblood, Sandi Sullivan, JoAnne Dickinson, Kathy Norris, and Suzanne Kennedy (photo by Ron Foreman)

By now, Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten’s Southern-fried comedies are familiar fare on Triangle stages, where Theatre in the Park performed Dearly Beloved not so many years ago and the Towne Players of Garner just finished a crowd-pleasing production of The Red Velvet Cake War. In University Theatre at N.C. State’s current TheatreFest presentation of The Dixie Swim Club, the Jones Hope Wooten formula for fun is exactly the same: assemble a motley assortment of Southern “types” and give them a dilemma or a series of dilemmas, so that they can smart-mouth each other until the audience is rolling in the aisles.

But The Dixie Swim Club may be evidence that Jones Hope Wooten’s wellspring of inspiration is beginning to run dry. This sitcom-shallow down-home comedy starts in 1978, with a reunion of five women from the fictional Pemberton College’s championship women’s swim team, 22 years after their college graduation. The next three scenes take place at the group’s 1983, 1988, and 2011 reunions. All-too-predictably, the last get-together of the now gray-haired group is marred by the death of one of the women, because Jones Hope Wooten wants to leave The Dixie Swim Club’s audience laughing through their tears.

During last Friday night’s performance of The Dixie Swim Club, which received a standing ovation at its conclusion, there were lots of chuckles; but belly-laughs were rare, because this quintet of Southern female professionals is all-too-familiar to anyone who has ever watched an episode of “Designing Women” — only there is no self-absorbed former beauty queen named Suzanne Sugarbaker to heighten the play’s hilarity with her outrageous antics.

Suzanne Kennedy is entertaining as hyper-energetic over-organized swim team captain-turned-health nut Sheree Hollinger; Donna Rossi-Youngblood is fun as the much-married sexpot Lexie Richards, who is always on the lookout for her next well-to-do soon-to-be-ex-husband; and Kathy Norris milks lots of laughs from the tawdry travails of poor unlucky-in-love and accident-prone Vernadette Simms.

JoAnne Dickinson fumbled far too many lines last Friday night as wisecracking successful Atlanta corporate attorney Dinah Grayson, whose wit is as dry as her martinis; and she allowed Sandi Sullivan to steal the show as ditzy nun-turned-single mom Jeri Neal McFeeley, whose 1978 pregnancy was a big shock her four former teammates, who had no idea that she had left the convent. (When Jones Hope Wooten turn to a pregnant nun for guffaws, they have jumped the shark.)

University Theatre director John C. McIlwee, who doubles as scenic and costume designer for The Dixie Swim Club, stages this moderately entertaining but superficial comedy with obvious relish on a splendidly realistic set with a veteran cast whose wardrobe reflects their characters’ quirks and the fashion fads over the 33 years spanned by the play. It’s too bad that this magnificent set and these striking costumes are wasted on a comedy with cardboard characters and a paint-by-numbers plot.

SECOND OPINION: June 1st Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Zach Smith (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-dixie-swim-club-at-ncsus-southern-comfort-themed-theatrefest-2011/Content?oid=2498568. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the May 25th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/05/five-women-strengthen-their-friendships-in-jones-hope-wootens-comedy-the-dixie-swim-club/.)

University Theatre at N.C. State presents THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB at 7:30 p.m. June 4, 5, and 9 and 2 p.m. June 12 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, on E. Dunn Ave. at Jensen Dr., in Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.

TICKETS: $13-$15 ($5 NCSU students) per show, $33 ($15 NCSU students) for all three shows, and $26 ($10 NCSU students) for two shows.

BOX OFFICE: 919/515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/. SHOW/SERIES: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/theatrefest/index.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/index.html. VENUE: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/thompson/index.html.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.ncsu.edu/arts/mapsanddirections.html.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://www.joneshopewooten.com/dixie-swim-club.html (official web page) and http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=3918 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.).

The Playwrights: http://www.joneshopewooten.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jones_Hope_Wooten_(Playwrights) (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail RobertM748@aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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