Now culture wars are being fought over biscuits.
The biggest moment in “The Dixie Swim Club,” which opened Thursday at the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior, comes when Vernadette Simms upbraids her fat-averse, tofu-loving school chum Sheree Hollinger to just eat the darn things already.
Vern’s rage leads her into a surprise soliloquy on Southern pride. As delivered by Melinda Kordrich, it’s an unexpected showstopper — even if both the tenor and content of her speech are otherwise out of place in an easygoing, well-acted sitcom for the stage.
The “Swim Club” playwriting team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten — the last a writer for “The Golden Girls” — do Southern-themed cornpone comedy with lots of zingers. They also make fun of costumes and appearances (like a clown suit and lampshade dress), have gawky plot surprises (like a pregnant nun) and tie it all up with heart.
This revival, staged by Eric Morris on Erik Paulson’s subtly lit set, is amiably entertaining. It finds laughs in the inevitable stages of life as we watch a quintet of Pembroke College swim teammates age in place.
Every August, serial divorcée Lexie Richards (Sara Marsh), attorney Dinah Grayson (Jen Maren) and sister Jeri Neal McFeeley (Bonni Allen) join Sheree (Shana Eisenberg) and Vern at a vacation house in the Outer Banks. They drink martinis and screwdrivers, pretend to eat Sheree’s foul-tasting hors d’oeuvres (which they spit out in plants) and catch up on each other’s lives.
In four scenes, “Dixie Swim Club” chronicles the women’s reunions from ages 44 to 77. They all have full lives, which they leave as they commune again and go skinny-dipping.
The show’s sharp edges come from the zingers, which are predictable but still well delivered. Marsh’s Lexie, a serial seducing narcissist, has the best lines, and she does not miss a beat. Her timing is expert. Kudos, also, for the convincing Southern accent.
Allen’s nun goes through the most obvious changes, and the actor plays the role as if anointed with sweetness.
Maren’s Dinah, who has cleared a path in law, is probably the strongest character in the show, but the writers use that fact against her. She doesn’t have as many funny lines, which makes her somewhat less endearing.
Eisenberg’s Sheree is all obliviousness and good intentions. Only at the end do her friends think that eating her cooking is like eating anthrax. Eisenberg plays it straight.
And Kordich has the most fun. Her Vern is a hypochondriac we see in a sling for her arm, on crutches and with a neck brace. She helps her friends, and us, laugh through the swim club’s inevitable pains.