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'Dixie Swim Club' next up at Corn Stock tent

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If we’re lucky, each of us will go through with a small group of friends that will always be there, no matter how many miles separate us or how many go by between visits.

Those are the friends who will know each other’s deepest secrets, will lend an ear or even a shoulder during a crisis, and will never judge.

That is the basic premise of “The Dixie Swim Club,” the all-women comedy written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. It is the second show of the summer at Corn Stock Theatre, opening Friday at 7:30 p.m. under the tent in Upper Bradley Park.

“This is a show about friendship, a friendship among five women who will and do discuss absolutely anything with each other,” said Lana Warner, who is co-directing “Dixie Swim Club” with her daughter, Lisa Jeans. “Men and women are different, I think, because men are more reserved in their friendships. They don’t talk as much about personal matters, whereas women hold nothing back. People will see that in this show. Nothing is off limits.”

Jeans said she believes audience will “maybe find a new appreciation for the friends that have stuck with them through the years, through thick and thin, good times and bad. While it is billed as a show for women, men are going to love it, too.”  

The play follows five women through 33 years of their lives. It starts 22 years after they all became friends in college and continues into their senior years, tracking them from age 44 to 77. They meet each year at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to catch up with each other’s lives. Much laughter ensues, largely because these five have very distinct personalities that still somehow mesh into deep and lasting friendships.

“We still laugh every night at rehearsal. It truly is like these five have been friends ever since college,” Jeans said.

She is referring to the five women chosen to portray “The Dixie Swim Club.” She and Warner were able to get some of the finest talent in the Peoria region, stage veterans who know how to turn a phrase for laughter or wring a tear or two from audiences.

Cheri Beever, a veteran of countless musicals, comedies and dramas throughout the region, portrays Sheree, the group’s leader. Carol Urish, known mostly for her musical talents, portrays Dinah, the overachieving lawyer whose personal life is a wreck. Lexie, the oft-married and pampered one, is portrayed by Trish Ballard, who stage credits include the voluptuous Mrs. Robinson in Corn Stock’s production of “The Graduate.”

Barb Couri, who wowed audiences as the Bird Woman in “Mary Poppins” at Eastlight Theatre, portrays acerbic Vernadette, who walks around with a dark cloud hovering overhead. And Belinda Calvert, making her comeback to the community theatre where she once played Florence in the female version of “The Odd Couple,” portrays Jeri Neal, the sweet, eager-to-please one in the group.

Warner said she has worked on stage with all five and knew each would be great in this play. “We had 25 women audition, which is wonderful. And to have this talented of a group want to work with us as directors is humbling. We are blessed,” she said.

“I mean, how lucky can we be? This is one of those special shows you get to do every once in a while. And it is very special,” she added.

The show has its serious moments that may surprise audiences, Jeans said, and the way the cast handles those is “really wonderful. I think mom has been able to bring out the best in all of these actors.”

Warner, a long-time player of comedy roles on area stages and now a regular at Conklin’s Barn II Dinner Theatre, said the cast simply was able to take her ideas and run with them. “If there is one think I know, it’s funny, and they took suggestions and made it work,” she said.

The cast itself has had to deal with serious issues during rehearsals. Two cast members lost siblings to illness in recent weeks and another sent her only child to college. “It has been a very emotional time for some of us this summer. We’ve had a lot of group hugs,” Jeans said. “But you know what? We have really come to love each other. We’ve become very close. Now we all have lasting friendships with each other.”

The show runs from Friday June 19 through Saturday, June 27, with all nine performances starting at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students.

To reserve tickets call 676-2196 or visit tickets@cornstocktheatre.com.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).