A warm ensemble cast – (left to right) Laura Ross, Sarah Green, Lori Tych, Alaina Holland and Danielle St. Pierre – elevates Peninsula Productions’ The Dixie Swim Club, continuing until Saturday (July 28) at Coast Capital Playhouse. Beverly Malcom photo

Dixie Swim Club: a splash in shallow end

Peninsula Productions’ cast provides the real strength in protracted sitcom

Peninsula Productions’ version of The Dixie Swim Club, which wraps up this weekend at White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse, gets full marks for its ensemble of players, efficient staging (by Peninsula co-founder and artistic director Wendy Bollard) and evocative set, costume and technical work.

But while it clearly connects with audience members seeking belly laughs and an unchallenging night of theatre, nothing can really disguise the fact that Jamie Wooten, Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope’s script is a splashy dip in the shallow end of the pool – a protracted sitcom, heavy on character-driven comedy, but feather-light on incident and insight.

Not surprisingly, Wooten was for many years a writer and producer on TV’s Golden Girls, and it’s tempting to view this study of five Southern women – former members of a college swim team, who gather for successive reunion weekends of boozing and bitchy humour – as a repository of unused television script ideas.

Make no mistake, there are laughs to be mined from the foibles of these characters, and this cast serves their zingers well.

But when The Dixie Swim Club does, on occasion, turn to the serious side, it comes across less as a genuine statement and more as a ploy to suggest an emotional depth that isn’t really there: it scarcely qualifies as an epiphany, after all, to learn that people grow older as years go by and that some even die ahead of their time.

Little wonder that the usual approach to the show is for players to take it right over the top.

There’s plenty of scope in the play for ‘bums-on-seats’ amateur and professional companies ready to substitute theatrical razzle-dazzle for any semblance of reality.

Bollard and her indisputably talented company have generally reined in such extremes – which is commendable, on one hand. But, sadly, the closer they came to reality – in the gala night performance I saw – the more they tended to emphasize the threadbare nature of the material.

The real strength of this production is in the genuine warmth and touching camaraderie developed by players Laura Ross, Danielle St. Pierre, Sarah Green, Alaina Holland and Lori Tych, who also manage to suggest the passage of some 35 years during the course of the play, with subtle, rather than telegraphed, changes.

Ross helps bond the company with her good-natured humanity as Sheree, the former team captain, whose organizational obsession, and indigestible food offerings, are the butt of many jokes. And St. Pierre creates a convincingly free-spirited Dinah, a successful lawyer whose drinking and jibes tend to mask true feelings that only come out in quieter moments.

Green and Holland have a field day with two gift roles; Green unfailingly amusing as pampered, man-hungry Lexie, whose serial relationships never quite seem to give her the validation she craves, and Holland consistently funny as accident-prone Vernadette, whose background story seems to resemble a trailer-trash train wreck.

And Lori Tych, in a variation from the intensity of her usual roles, is endearing as the sweet-natured, essentially innocent, Jeri Neal – and demonstrates her acting skill anew in the quite magical way she can evoke advancing years through body language alone.

The show runs until Saturday, 8 p.m. performances. For tickets ($27, $22 seniors and $13 students), call 604-536-7535 or visit peninsulaproductions.org

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