The Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse concludes its 2013-14 season of plays (there's one more musical on the Main Stage in May) with one tailor-made for a core audience that appreciates the fact that people do get older: The Dixie Swim Club.
Often called a mix of Steel Magnolias and Same Time, Next Year, it's about five women who were together on their college swim team and since graduation have gotten together at a North Carolina beach cottage every summer to catch up on what's going on in each other's lives.
Writers Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten drop in on the women 22 years after graduation, five years after that, then another five years later, with the last scene still 25 years later, when the women are approaching age 80.
Their lives have gone in all directions, but their affection for each other has remained steady, though often challenged.
"We all have friends who drive us crazy, but we love them anyway," said Andrea Gleason, who is directing the show. "(These women) have a warm and moving relationship with each other."
Gleason's cast includes four Stage West veterans, including multi-HAMI winners Betsy Glasson (Vivian in Love, Sex and the IRS) and Cheryl Roberts (Gen. Cartwright in Guys and Dolls), as well as Jeanene McLean (Diana in Lend Me a Tenor), Rose DeAngelo (Charmaine in Sex Please, We're 60) and Stage West newcomer Ellen Hutt, a retired teacher from Michigan with a long list of theatrical credits.
Ms. Roberts plays Lexie, "the one with a boob job and face lift," Ms. Gleason said. Ms. DeAngelo is Sharee, "the swim team captain back in the day (who) still bosses everybody around."
Ms. Glasson plays Jeri Neal. "She's sweet, with a secret, but I won't tell that and ruin it for the audience," Ms. Gleason said.
Vernadette (Ms. Hutt) has perhaps led the most melodramatic life. "Her life has been one long country song - married to a jerk, her kids are a mess, but she persists," Ms. Gleason said.
The seemingly toughest is Dinah (Ms. McLean). "She's the attorney and has a bit of a cynical side to her. She is tough, until real life interferes."
The cast has been a joy to work with, Ms. Gleason said.
"They have bonded," she said.
Shortly after open auditions, and long before formal rehearsals, the five women got together to read lines and become comfortable with the script, she said.
A challenge to the director and crew is "aging" the cast members from age 44 to age 79.
"Jamie Wooten (also) wrote The Golden Girls for television," Ms. Gleason said.
For TV, he could stop the cameras to change looks and sets, a luxury live theater doesn't have.
"Time passage is shown by costumes - the style of the times - and wigs, but mainly with dialogue," Ms. Gleason said.
At the beginning of each scene, one or more of the characters mentions their ages or some other reference point to let the audience know how long it's been since the last scene.
The play "is a comedy, but, so far, everybody who has seen it has cried at the end," Ms. Gleason said. "It's suitable for ages middle school and up. It's not 'R' rated, not 'X' rated, but kids would be bored" by the story itself.
"The first weekend is pretty much sold out, but the second weekend is Easter weekend, so ticket sales so far have been light," Ms. Gleason said.
* * *
IF YOU GO
The Dixie Swim Club
A comedy in two acts, Thursday and weekends through April 20 in the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows are at 8 p.m., except Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12, reserved seating. Call (352) 683-5113.