Review: ‘The Dixie Swim Club’ at Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater

Written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, better known to theater goers as the Jones Hope Wooten comedy team, The Dixie Swim Club at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater tells the story of a group of five southern women who met and became close friends while competing on their college swim team. Now, years later, they reunite at a beach house once a year each August with no kids, husbands or work allowed, to share their news and enjoy the company. Through the years, we see their hilarious ups and downs in life and come to realize how much the women really form another family.

 Cookie Driscoll and Allison Banzhoff. Photo by Joe Crocetta, Hagerstown Herald Mail Media.
Cookie Driscoll and Allison Banzhoff. Photo by Joe Crocetta, Hagerstown Herald Mail Media.

Scott Ruble has done a fine job directing this well-written and witty comedy. Ruble allows each of the actresses’ distinct individual characters to shine through and contrast their differences. However, the women all still hold a close connection in full ensemble scenes with no individual cast member pulling too much focus, which is a delicate balance that Ruble has expertly navigated.

Allison Banzhoff is excellent as Sheree, the Type A perfectionist leader of the group. Banzhoff frequently had to play the straight man (or woman in this case) in comedy as the punch line of many of the jokes and did an admirable job on many of her more emotional moments.

Denise O’Brien does an impressive job as Jeri Neal, an adorably naïve and quirky character who makes an incredible transition, after already making an unforgettable entrance into the show.

Cookie Driscoll is vivacious and sensual as flirtatious cougar, Lexie. Driscoll made the most of her character’s numerous fantastic one-liners.

As high-powered lawyer, Dinah, Diana Abrecht brings a very dry, sarcastic wit to the role with her sharp, often biting delivery. Abrecht had a phenomenal contrast to her typical character during an emotional scene with Driscoll in Act II.

Though the show is an all-female ensemble comedy, Joan Crooks clearly steals the show as Vernadette. Her sweetly sincere and hilarious responses and one-liners quickly made her the obvious audience favorite, as evidenced by the frequent raucous laughter. Crooks has mastered her comedic timing and managed to stop the show with laughter several times. Her monologue about biscuits in Act II was one of the best moments of the production.

Joan Crooks, Allison Banzhoff and Diana Abrecht. Photo by Joe Crocetta, Hagerstown Herald Mail Media.
Joan Crooks, Allison Banzhoff, and Diana Abrecht. Photo by Joe Crocetta, Hagerstown Herald Mail Media.

The facial reactions from all of the women in the show were priceless and the ongoing energy throughout helps when the pace of the show occasionally starts to lag. All cast members performed an impressive authentically deep-fried Southern dialect.

The costumes, by Barbie Gross, are cleverly designed so that each woman wears a standard type of modern outfit (capri pants for Dinah, form-fitting dresses for Lexie, etc.) which is then modified in each new scene as time passes.

Jim and Sue Eckel’s set is a lovely modern-day beach house in pale shades of blue and white with light wicker furniture and whimsical seaside set dressings. Lighting, designed by Travis Fouche, is equally simple and elegant, leaving the focus on the five women.

For a warm and winning comedy, don’t miss The Dixie Swim Club at the Washington County Playhouse.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 20-minute intermission.

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The Dixie Swim Club plays through August 20, 2016 at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 North Potomac Street, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 739-7469 or purchase them online.

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