The Sweet Delilah Swim Club (Villanova Players)
Ron Hurley Theatre
March 4 – 19
Friendship is the one sure thing to hold on to in life, Venadette (Liz Hull) reflects in thanks for the entertainment she is experiencing as her long-time friends bicker around her. The quote comes during our second insight into the group’s annual time away at a beachside cottage in Georgia (the Sweet Delilah of the play’s title) when revelations are made, secrets are shared and confidences are betrayed as part of the usual ups and downs after 27 years of friendship.
The five friends are members of a College swim team who now meet for one weekend each year free from husbands, kids and jobs. No-nonsense Sheree (Jane Binstead), the group’s former swim captain, childless career-driver lawyer Dinah (Megan Lawson), pampered and flirtatious (Vivian Broadbent), accepting-of-her-lot-in-life Venadette (Hull) and eager-to-please Jeri Neal (Director Jacqueline Kerr) make for a group of familiar character types that are also presented as very real characters in whose stories we easily become invested. And so, with personalities and dynamics already well established in their first scene introduction in 1983 (their 22nd reunion), we sit back and watch as their lives play out with scenes across four of their weekends as they reminisce about old times and touch base about the changes that happened in their lives over the past year… because a lot can happen over 33 years of friendship through the ebbs and flows of life.
The cast of performers work well together, soon settling into their required southern belle accents. They each easily take their characters from being aged 44 to 77 as the women individually journey through divorce, demanding children, career disappointments, disease and death. Indeed, performances are particularly impressive in the final 2018 scene, when the characters being played are in their late 70s, complete with the unsteady movement of failing health as much as the cosmetics of grey hair. Of particular note, Lawson never misses a beat as the successful but still sometimes vulnerable Dinah and Hull offers perfectly timed comedy as the contrasting Vernadette, often in self-deprecation of her country song of a life as much as her blunt observations of the others.
A narrative that journeys a tale across three decades allows opportunity for much narrative coverage and, accordingly, a lot of story is told through the ladies’ catch-ups about men, marriages and the realisations of middle age and beyond. The insight of the work’s clever script, however, comes from not just grand, sweeping statements, but little lines of dialogue around the terrifying reality of aging, such as still thinking you are 20-years-old, yet looking down upon a middle-aged woman’s hands. Lucy Moxon’s set design creates a realistic depiction of a cozy beach cottage, and careful costuming and staging changes reflect the different eras being conveyed, beyond just the obviousness of updated technology.
The drama escalates after interval as a hurricane hits, the increasing sounds of which make it difficult to hear some less strongly projected dialogue. It is in this second act, however, that the real beauty of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten’s writing shines, and in the hands of these performers every character is filled with dimension which makes its final scenes particularly poignant.
Like a comforting old-school midday movie, sans ads, “The Sweet Delilah Swim Club” is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours. The dramedy is both hilarious and ultimately touching and there is now denying its commentary on the enduring nature of the special of friendships, for while the five ladies may be at different stages in life, having made an assortment of choices with which the others might not agree, they have a bond that pulls them back to the Sweet Delilah cottage every year, no matter what… Now just don’t miss your chance to join them.