It’s a classic ploy for the playwright – right up there with the family-reunion-under-duress.
Take a close-knit group of characters and follow their lives over a series of encounters spanning several years, or maybe even several decades.
The Dixie Swim Club, latest presentation of Peninsula Productions (July 13 – 28, Coast Capital Playhouse) follows the formula to a T. Five women who first met, and bonded – and established their conflicts – many years ago on their college swim team, set aside a long weekend every August to catch up on their lives, away from partners, children and jobs.
Add to the recipe that the women, who annually converge on a beach cottage in Northern Carolina’s Outer Banks, are all ‘you-all’ Southerners, – and the fact that Jamie Wooten, who co-authored along with Jessie Jones and Nicholas Hope, was for many years a writer and producer on TV’s The Golden Girls – and you have ample opportunity for rich characters, arresting incidents and what a publisher’s synopsis describes as ‘raucous repartee’.
There’s Sheree (Laura Ross), the original team captain and still leader of the group, who struggles to maintain her organized, ‘perfect’ life; Dinah (Danielle St. Pierre) a distinguished career lawyer whose courtroom victories can’t compensate for her many frustrations; and pampered, self-obsessed Lexie (Sarah Green). There’s sweet-natured Jeri Neal (Lori Tych), whose entry into the world of motherhood is late and highly unexpected.
And then there’s dry-humoured Vernadette (Alaina Holland), always willing to put herself down, and resigned to the chaos of existence – partly because she’s aware of a shadow fate has cast across her life.
It’s a collection of dream parts for a hand-picked dream team of highly capable actresses – and director and Peninsula co-founder Wendy Bollard, fresh from the exhilaration of the company receiving the Surrey Mayor’s Arts Award for ‘arts and innovation,’ says she’s enjoying the process immensely.
“We’ve got some great ‘gals’,” she said.
“I’m still laughing out loud at stuff, weeks into rehearsal.”
Sessions with movie industry accent coach Tony Alcantar to enhance the players’ Southern speech patterns only added to the hilarity – and the genuine bonding of the cast, she added.
“For me, when I’m casting, I’m looking for great actors, of course, but I’m also looking for team players with a real supportive spirit.”
The show is a natural for a director who revels in plays based in the dynamics of female relationships. Past Peninsula shows like Waiting For The Parade, Steel Magnolias – even the grimly serious Belfast Girls of last season – speak to that affinity.
“I love working with women,” she acknowledged.
“I love plays about women. (The Dixie Swim Club) ticked all the boxes for me. And this is a play that is very funny – but it’s also quite tender and loving, about friends who support each other through all the things, good and bad, that happen in life.
“I think men will relate to it too, because we all have those friendships that are like that.”
Biggest challenge in directing the show, she said, is “striking the right tone” and finding the reality of characters – particularly as they age from their early forties to their late seventies through a 35-year time span.
“We certainly didn’t want the ‘little old lady’ walk – people who are 77 are running marathons these days,” Bollard said.
“This is a show that could be done right over the top, but although there’s a lot of comedy there are also bittersweet moments as well. It’s about making sure that balance is struck, so that it doesn’t seem like you’re watching two different plays at the same time.
“Life is like that, too. As we age, we want to strike the right balance, even when there is stuff that happens that challenges us.”
Previews begin Wednesday, July 11, with the official opening on July 13. Performances run Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with 2:30 p.m. matinées on weekends.
For tickets ($27, $22 seniors and $13 students), call 604-536-7535 or visit www.peninsulaproductions.org