SPRING HILL — Take a hankie. Or take two.
You'll need them to watch The Dixie Swim Club at the Forum at Stage West through Sunday, first to dab at tears of laughter, then to mop up tears of poignancy as the stellar cast of this dear, sweet play brings you right into the middle of four of their annual get-togethers in a cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina over a period of 33 years.
The five first met in college, when they were all on the championship Dixie Swim Team, and they've stayed each others' best buddies since then, even from a distance, celebrating marriages and happy times and supporting each other through disappointments, divorces and heartbreak. We see them 22 years after graduation, five years later, another five years later and, finally, 25 years after that, when they're all pushing age 80 and all the "joys" that come with that.
Director Andrea Gleason must be living right, because five of the best performers you could imagine came to her auditions and landed roles that seem to be made for their exact talents.
Tiny Betsy Glasson shows why she's a consistent award winner as she plays Jeri Neal, a.k.a. Sister Mary Esther, the shy one of the bunch who reveals her secrets with a cool poise that makes her observances about the most unexpected of subjects simply hilarious.
Another award winner, Cheryl Roberts, shows her acting chops doing sexy Lexie, the much-married, much-divorced vamp who fears aging like a gazelle fears a lion. Rose DeAngelo plays Sheree, the loudmouthed, imperious team captain who thinks she is still the boss. Jeanene MacLean does her first major role to a turn as Dinah, the hard-charging attorney who would rather have a Mercedes than matrimony and/or motherhood.
But it's a Stage West newcomer, Ellen Hutt, who nearly steals the show as Vernadette, the hard-luck gal who valiantly hangs in there, observing her own life through a prism of rueful optimism. Ms. Hutt, a Michigan transplant, has decades of acting experience, but her Stage West debut has to be among her best performances. Granted, she gets some of the best lines in the script. But they would go for naught without Ms. Hutt's perfect timing and easygoing delivery. Her lengthy soliloquy on the virtues of Southern biscuits is as incisive and genuine as anything dear ol' Shakespeare ever wrote, and she more than does it justice.
Fans of the TV series The Golden Girls will recognize some of the setups and payoffs, since one of the three writers of this play, Jamie Wooten, also wrote for that hit comedy show. That's all for the good, as he gets the chance to complete the arc of five lives in about 2 1/2 hours, taking it to a warm, satisfying conclusion.