Delightful ‘Dixie’ brings the laughter

We women thought we had the exclusive lock on personal relationships. But the new director for the Mouse River Players, Carlen Gilseth, has strayed from that formula with a play written by a team of playwrights that is two-thirds male: Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.

Beginning tonight at The Arlene Theater, “The Dixie Swim Club” features five female friends who met on their college swim team and have been getting together at a beach house in North Carolina for an annual reunion since. The play spans 33 years, opening 22 years after their graduation.

“It shows them beginning in middle age, and advancing to old age at the end,” said Gilseth. “When it opens they’re 44, then we see them again at 49, then 54, then 77. They’re a hoot!”

The play is reminiscent of the TV show “The Golden Girls,” with good reason. One of the writers worked on the sitcom, and has brought the same kidding and gags to the stage.

This is a group of friends letting their hair down with no husbands, kids or other responsibilities to hamper them. They have come to depend on each other for advice and shoulders to cry on.

Sheree Hollinger, played by Holly Eidsness, is the “spunky” team captain, a role she continues throughout life. Dinah Grayson, portrayed by Katie Allers, is a career dynamo. Serial monogamist Lexie Richards, played by Karen Anderson, tries to hold onto her youth as long as possible. Jeri Neal McFeeley and Vernadette Simms, played by Jeanne Zuniga and Cheryl Jones respectively, have their moments of chaos to contribute.

“I’m so happy with this show,” Gilseth said. “It’s a really strong cast, and although it’s Cheryl’s first show ever, you’d never be able to tell.

“You will have a good time because they have a good time. They are great actors – thinking actors, and that makes it fun. They seem to come up with something new and different and wonderful every run-through. I find myself laughing all the time, and I’m the director.”

Gilseth has only praise for his crew as well, citing Matt Murphy as set designer and Thomas Burke as technician.

“It’s only a one-set show, but it has to age, too,” Gilseth said. “In the end, it’s slated for demolition, so it’s kind of a metaphor for the characters, too.”

Penny Lipsey is his “right hand” as assistant director and stage manager, and his fiancee Connie Godwin is credited with costuming.

“Of course, she is in Texas just now, getting ready to move up here. That made the fittings kind of tough, but there was no problem with the skinny-dipping scene,” he added with a broad laugh. “Of course there is no such scene and the ladies don’t even appear in bathing suits, but don’t let that stop you from coming.”

“The Dixie Swim Club” is part of the season ticket, or costs $10 for non-holders. The shows are at 7:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. Due to limited seating, reservations are recommended by calling 866-667-1977. It is suitable for all audiences.