by David Dixon
Lamplighter’s Community Theatre is staging several comedies this year that do not shy away from serious themes. “Chapter Two,” “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel,” and the summer production of “The Dixie Swim Club” tug at the heartstrings while still featuring witty humor.
“The Dixie Swim Club” centers around five Southern women who met when they were members of a college swim team. After graduation, the confidants continue to catch up with each other every August at a beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
They talk about everything from men to work. As 33 years pass, their bond continues to deepen.
Director Jerry Pilato lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and says the play does a good job paying homage to the barrier islands. “I’ve been on the beaches before,” he said. “They’re not as picturesque as the Florida beaches, but it is beautiful. The characters are really attached to the area, because it means so much to them.”
Pilato has produced four versions of “The Dixie Swim Club” and has directed the show five times. He finds the plot really touching and powerful. “It’s one of those shows that’s close to my heart,” he said. “It’s about companionship and friendship, which means a lot to me as a person.”
Part of the reason the friendship aspect works so effectively for Pilato is because the former classmates change drastically when they get older. “When Act I begins, they already have been a part of the club for years,” he said. “As we watch them grow, we realize that their friendship is what they depend on.”
His latest staging has a different cast from prior interpretations. Sandy Hotchkiss stars as Sheree Hollinger, the former team captain and leader of the group. She empathizes with Sheree, since Hotchkiss likes to feel in control.
“As a mother I can relate to that, especially when my kids were younger,” she said. “Sheree’s behavior comes from a good place, because she truly cares and loves her friends. She helps to make sure that they are all having a fun time together.”
While Hotchkiss has a lot in common with Sheree, the actress finds the group to be fully realized individuals. “These characters are very real,” she said. “I think men and women can relate to the relationship that the women have.”
Pilato does not want to downplay the dramatic sequences written by playwrights Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. Part of the reason is because he has mostly directed dramas in the past.
Although the tone is generally comical, Pilato says the narrative is grounded in reality. “Topics like sex, marriage, kids, and divorce are taken seriously,” he said. “I play the sincere moments for everything its worth”
Hotchkiss finds the contrasting tones to be realistic. “There are so many things that we deal with that are both difficult and poignant in our own lives,” she said. “I think about my own personal experiences when I am in the non-comedic scenes.”
Like many tales, people will connect to “The Dixie Swim Club” if they enjoy spending time, and empathizing, with the main characters. “The idea is for the audience to really like these people,” Pilato said. “Although it’s a comedy, you see a lot of these occurrences happen in your own life.”
Spending several decades with the former swim team will give viewers plenty to discuss after the curtain call. Theatregoers are in for a smart, entertaining, and reflective evening.
“The Dixie Swim Club” will be performed at Lamplighters Community Theatre July 8-Aug. 7. For tickets or more information, visit lamplighterslamesa.com or call 619-303-5092.
—David Dixon freelance writer with a bent toward theater and film. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.