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'Dixie' spans the ages on stage

The fourth play of the summer season at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is "The Dixie Swim Club," which opens today and runs through July 28. The two-week run has a cast of five, shown above from left, rehearsing a scene are Elizabeth Desotelle, Melissa O'Neill, Andrea Leap, Val Lari and Sara Einerson.

BEMIDJI - The Paul Bunyan Playhouse's Artistic Director Terry Lynn Carlson brings "The Dixie Swim Club," a charming, hilarious and touching story of five unforgettable women and their friendships that last a lifetime, to the stage in The Chief Theater.

The five women, all members of a college swim team, have remained friends since their days in the pool, meeting for one weekend every summer in the same beach house on the Outer Banks. Amidst the heat and humidity that is summer in North Carolina, they recharge their relationships, catch up on life, gossip, reminisce and, of course, they swim. Reminiscent of "Steel Magnolias," the characters in this show are rich and distinct bringing the audience to laughter and tears, each lovable for their own unique and individual ways.

The first of four acts opens in 1982 when the characters are 40 years old. Following them over the next 30 years as they meet for weekends when they are 45, 50 and finally 70, each act brings revelations of developments with children, husbands, health, romance and aging. Meeting each of these challenges head-on, they rally themselves and each other with the team battle cry of "The faster we swim, the sooner we win!" And if there is anything more entertaining than women being friends; it is most certainly women being enemies. So when the tempers flare, as they are bound to do over the span of 33 years, the laughs do too.

The casting is faultless, starting with Lexie, portrayed by Elizabeth Desotelle. Known for her looks and failed marriages she seems to be the shallowest of the members, finding more to love in her mirror image than in her fellow man - or men. Local actor Sarah Einerson is Vernadette: self-deprecating, acerbic and long-suffering she perseveres through it all, even with a lump of a husband and disappointing children. Dinah, played by Val Lari, is the wise-cracking overachiever who enjoys a relationship with dry martinis, a fulfilling career, but very little personal success, and Melissa O'Neill is health-nut Sheree, the team's former captain and group leader, still obsessively yet effectively managing the lives of her family and friends. Last but not least, the cast is rounded out by Andrea Leap, who is former nun Jeri-Neal. She hears a different calling rather late in life and surprises her fellow swimmers with more than just a change of habit.

These five women bring simple, unpretentious, yet unforgettable friendships to life in this Southern-fried comedy and, like the song says, nobody does it better.

Jones Hope Wooten, as the three playwrights who created The Dixie Swim Club are collectively known, has become one of the most successful writing teams ever. Known for their Futrelle Family Texas Trilogy (Dearly Beloved, Christmas Belles and Southern Hospitality), their scripts are peopled with characters of the Southern persuasion and feature a down-home charm and humor that keeps audiences coming back for more.

Performances of The Dixie Swim Club are underwritten by the Bemidji Jaycees and begin at 8 tonight in the Historic Chief Theater. Shows continue through July 28.

Ticket prices for the 8 p.m. performances are $22 for adults, $15 for students and $20 for groups of 10 or more. Tickets for the 2 p.m. Sunday matinee performance are $15 for all ages.

All tickets may be purchased through the Playhouse Box Office at (218) 751-7270 or online at

The activity is funded in whole or in part by a Region 2 Arts Council grant through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.