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Monday September 1st 2014

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The Gift of Girlfriends

PLT Play Highlights Relationships Before Social Networking
By Barry Shuck

Reunions generally create a mixed bag of emotions. The prospect of seeing friends and family who haven’t been an active part of your life can be a strain; or the event can be the most anticipated date on the calendar. Often a person will attempt to lose weight, buy new clothes or perhaps arrange an automobile upgrade.

High school reunions, event reunions and even those dreaded family reunions can be taxing on a person. Without question, there is always that unavoidable weird uncle whom everyone attempts to circumvent.

But not all reunions are troublesome. Seeing past friends in person instead of through Facebook and other forms of social networking can be exciting as well as delightful.

Such is the premise of the emotional comedy play “The Dixie Swim Club,” presented by Pensacola Little Theatre (PLT). This production is about five lifelong friends who became BFFs (best friends forever) while in college.

“Based on PLT’s ongoing success, we know this is the right show for its audiences,” said playwright Jones Hope Wooten, who wrote this play. “This story has great resonance because it reinforces the need for and benefit of human contact, for which there is no satisfying substitute.”

The storyline centers around five mature women who are all Southern-raised. Each year, for the past 33 years, they have reunited at a quaint North Carolina beach cottage to catch up with each other’s lives and to reflect on their own existence. They use the annual trip to escape the doldrums of husbands, children, hectic job schedules and life in general.

Many times a family has been greatly influenced by a strong female member, and it is not uncommon for that woman to venture on a getaway with her girlfriends. The coincidence was too great not to explore for the team of Jones Hope Wooten.

The five women in this play began their eternal friendship while members of their college swim team. As the years unfold, they see their lives reflected.

“There’s something about a friend ‘of many years’ that is extra special,” accessed cast member Carol Kahn-Parker. “Girlfriends are a gift, and it almost takes getting to this age to realize just how much of a gift.”

As each decade progresses and the years slip away, these women come to rely on each other more than ever. The play focuses on four specific weekends throughout a 33-year span. With comedy at the very core of each brisk line, there are also moments of sadness, remorse and sympathy intertwined along with the challenges each women faces in their own lives.

“Time spent with good friends, particularly long-time friends, not only nurtures the soul but comforts as well,” offered Jones Hope Wooten. “There are not enough strikes on a keypad that can take the place of one-on-one human interaction. This play is about the ‘human experience’—how we examine it, understand it and embrace it. That is what feeds us.”

Jones Hope Wooten is the ghost writer for Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. The trio actually started out in community theatre, and together the team has written over 1,000 productions including fan favorites “Christmas Belles,” “Dearly Beloved,” “The Hallelujah Girls” and “Dearly Departed.” The latter was made into a movie in 2001 entitled “Kingdom Come” starring LL Cool J, Vivica Fox and Whoopi Goldberg. In addition, Wooten was a writer for the hit TV series “The Golden Girls” starring Betty White.

“The Dixie Swim Club” is an audience favorite in community theatres such as PLT and across the United States and has recently been presented in several foreign venues such as Australia and London. And as evidenced by the team’s playwright success, Jones Hope Wooten has the propensity for writing entertaining productions that folks want to see and become a part of.
PLT presents this play in their Studio 400 chamber. With this show, audience members have the opportunity to sit either in general admission or in the quaint café seating. This area allows the theatre-goer the opportunity to purchase appetizers as well as various beverages from the in-house Portabello Market.

This play is not only funny and heartwarming, but it also offers the gift of friendship. Each character demonstrates that true friends don’t judge, always forgive, and are there to laugh with you while propping you up when the trials of life get a little gritty.

Other cast members include Candi Bramlett, Joanna Robbins Hayes, Valerie Russenberger and Sheryl VandenBerg. The director is Jerry Ahillen.

“Maybe as the audience leaves the theatre, they’ll feel a little something for us and their own friends,” concluded Kahn-Parker. “I’m sure they’ll identify with all of our characters in so many ways.”

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‘DIXIE SWIM CLUB’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 20-24
WHERE: Studio 400, Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $17 café seating, $10 general admission, $1 handling fee per ticket
DETAILS: 432-2042 or pensacolalittletheatre.com