The Old Log Theatre Opens it’s 80th Year With a Winner, The Dixie Swim Club

Photo Old Log Theatre

The old Log Theatre is the oldest professional theatre in Minnesota, staging it’s first show in 1940. 80 years later it is showing us why. 2020 saw it complete it’s dead brilliant run of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder which opened in October 2019. Now with The Dixie Swim Club they demonstrate once again that they know what their audiences want and how to give it to them. The Dixie Swim Club is a laugh out loud comedy that find humor in character, and what characters they are. A talented cast of five local actresses that give such strong and endearing performances by the time the play ends, you feel like you have spent the evening as part of this close circle of friends rather than just as an observer. Yes, this is another show you can safely take Grandma too, and you know what? That’s great!

The Dixie Swim Club written by the team of Jessie Jone, Nicolas Hope, and Jamie Wooten is not an incredibly original play. It draws comparisons to Steel Magnolias among others. It follows five women who became friends when they were on their college swim team together. The play shows us them on four of their yearly Girls Weekend at a cabin on the beach in August. The first Girls Weekend takes place 22 years after graduation and by the last weekend, 33 years have passed in all. The script does a wonderful job of giving us details about their personalities that we can follow through each time jump. Sheree played by Shana Eisenberg is the planner and health conscious one. Jen Maren plays Dinah, the career focused lawyer who hasn’t made time for a personal life. Sara Marsh is Lexie the self absorbed serial divorcee. Bonni Allen is Jeri who starts the play as a nun. And finally, Melinda Kordich plays Vernadette, bad luck follows her around like an annoying little sister that cannot be shaken off or ditched. They are all terrific, but Vernadette and particularly Kordich’s performance was my favorite. The first time we see her in each time period she has something wrong that we can see, a sling on her arm, crutches…. The story about the cause and what is happening in her life are some of the best comedic touches. But what was really impressive is the way she didn’t wallow in her bad luck. She has such an “oh well, what can you do?” attitude about some of the worst luck I’ve ever heard of that you can’t help but admire her character. She faces ridiculous adversity with self deprecating humor, it’s a much better choice than the sad sack route. It also leads to one of my favorite lines from the play when after telling them what has happened to her this year, one of the others says “your life is just one long country song isn’t it?” to which she replies, “and the hits just keep on coming.”

The Director Eric Morris, who also directed A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, does another fantastic job here. He has steered the performers towards distinct and authentic characterizations, allowing us to feel for them but also finding the humor. That balance can be tricky, and Morris shows he know how to walk that tightrope with confidence. There is an interesting choice in the changes between scenes. We have some of the performers helping to set the scene for the next time period but also ¬†Assistant Stage Manager, Annie Miners coming through and helping make the adjustments. It’s different because she is in full view of the audience and seems to be doing a little performance. For example, the first switch she comes out while Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is playing, and she is doing a little bit of a dance while she makes the changes. This actual reminded me of a similar technique in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Steel Magnolias last fall. It threw me at the Guthrie, but this time around I think Morris made it work. First of all there is a fair amount of little things that need to be changed, glasses and other props removed from the scene. You either have to darken the stage or drop a curtain for far too long, or you work it into the show. In this case I took it to be the caretaker who comes in after this yearly reunion putting everything right. The final set change brings an unexpected sense of loss to the play, changing the tone slightly so that when we jump ahead 23 years we sense there was a loss. Lastly I want to point out the scenic and lighting design of Erik Paulson. The set is perfectly realized, it is the livingroom of the cabin they rent every year, it’s sort of standard stuff, but well executed. The neat touch is in the distance outside the cabin we see the ocean and a night sky. The trees outside the window have the palms moving in the breeze. The sunset also changes beautifully, as does the sky itself when a storm is approaching.

Plays through May 29th at the Old Log Theatre for more information and to purchase tickets click on http://oldlog.com/ .