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Dinner show provides great evening

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By Alex Wimsatt

 For as long as I could remember I’ve been a patron of the fine arts, whether it’s perusing a museum or going to the theater.

Until recently I thought the only local theater worth watching were the high brow plays put on in Louisville’s thriving downtown theater district.

That was until this Bullitt County boy took a trip across the Ohio River to the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Ind. 

A few weeks ago I was asked to see one of their plays and write a review for The Pioneer News.

Though I have frequented the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the nationally acclaimed Actors Theater of Louisville, I had never been to Derby Dinner Playhouse and to be quite frank I thought, “How good can a theater that has a buffet be.”

Then there was the play I was to see. 

The play was “The Dixie Swim Club,” described as “a touching comedy about five Southern women, whose friendships began many years ago on their college swim team and span a lifetime.” 

Set in the living room of the North Carolina beach cottage they visit every summer to reconnect, the play revolves around the lives of these women and their longstanding friendship.

After reading the press release about the play I said to myself, “This sounds like “The Golden Girls,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Designing Women” all rolled into one.”

Though I was excited about having the opportunity to write my first theater review for print, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be critiquing a play like “The Dixie Swim Club.”   

By no means have I ever considered myself an elitist, but I do have discriminating tastes when it comes to the performing arts and from the description of “The Dixie Swim Club” it didn’t sound like my cup of tea.

I later learned the age old lesson that you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when it comes to theater.

My cynicism quickly began to fade when my date and I were greeted by a friendly attendant as we entered Derby Dinner Playhouse. 

We were led to an impressive arena style theater where dining tables and chairs surrounded a central stage. 

After being seated, we were told to help ourselves to the buffet where there was a well stocked soup and salad bar in addition to a wide assortment of entrees and sides.

Without going into too much detail about our dining experience, the food was delicious and the service was excellent.

Shortly after our table was cleared, the lights dimmed and Derby Dinner’s talented troupe of singers, actors and musicians took the stage to give a preview of songs from the theater’s upcoming plays.

Following a brief intermission the show was on.

From act one, scene one, actresses Janet Essenpreis, Rita Thomas, Jilly Kelly, Michelle Johnson and Tina Jo Wallace drew the audience into the lives of their characters.

While their quick and witty dialogue solidified the play’s comedic status, there was just enough conflict and tragedy to make the play thought provoking and poignant. 

To sum it up, the actresses made you care about their characters’ stories. 

After all, that’s what makes good theater.

The play was obviously written for women, but, male or female, anyone could identify with its’ underlying message of the power of friendship.

As this theater snob can tell you, it’s definitely worth the trip.

The 2012-2013 season kicked off on May 15 and will continue through next spring.

“The Dixie Swim Club” will be shown until July 1.