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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

June 2, 2022 Issue
PART 4 (June 3, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.


The Sweet Delilah Swim Club Makes a Splash at Theatre in the Park

Jones • Hope • Wooten's The Sweet Delilah Swim Club, directed by Nancy Gardner Rich, stars (from left) Benji Taylor Jones,
Tina Vance, Bonnie Webster, Laura Singleton Jenkins, and Staci Sabarsky (photo by Catherine Davis Photography)

When Theatre in the Park managing director Brent Simpson asked me if I would be interested in directing Jones • Hope • Wooten's The Sweet Delilah Swim Club, I didn't have to think twice before saying "yes." In my mind, the play had three things going for it -- or rather three people: Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, collectively known as Jones • Hope • Wooten. Among theatergoers, this trio is well-known for their laugh-out-loud comedies that take place primarily in the South. As a woman director, I am especially drawn to their work, because the Jones • Hope • Wooten plays always feature strong and vivid female characters.

Directors usually begin by reading the play over and over; exploring the characters, the setting, and the plot; and mining for the tidbits that the playwrights sprinkle throughout that make the story interesting and real. I am an Asheville girl, so it didn't take me long to understand these five North Carolina women. I recognized so many of their personality traits in my female friends and family members -- especially my mom and her generation of friends. I just knew that this show would resonate with the audience, especially those who grew up in North Carolina.

The story is about five Southern women whose friendship began many years ago on their college swim team. Every August, these ladies meet for a long weekend at the same beach cottage, The Sweet Delilah, on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Free from husbands, kids, and work obligations, they are able to spend time together rekindling their friendship and "not wear bras for three days." As the years pass, these women rely on each other more -- for advice, raucous repartee, and to get through the challenges of men, sex, marriage, parenting, divorce, and aging. They talk about it all. And they rally around each other, proving the enduring power of teamwork and love -- taking this comedy in some surprising directions.

When we held auditions back in early April, some of the finest local actresses appeared on our doorstep. The number of roles available for women over 40 are often limited in the theater, and we were offering five very juicy roles. This play offers the opportunity for the actor play to portray a character at four different times in her life: starting in her mid-40's moving through to her mid-70's.

First to appear in the show is Benji Taylor Jones, playing the role of the spunky team captain, Sheree Hollinger -- very organized and with a "perfect life." Benji appeared at TIP back in 2021 in another Jones • Hope • Wooten play, The Wild Women of Winedale. Benji is our "energizer bunny," and she starts the first scene with a lively dance -- the kind of dance you do when you think nobody's looking.

Second on the stage is Staci Sabarsky, playing the role of Lexie Richards -- a pampered and glamorous businesswoman who is determined to hold onto her looks and youth as long as possible. Staci just moved back to North Carolina from Florida, where she directed and ran her own troupe, Innovocative Theatre. An actress, singer, educator, and director -- there's no doubt that you'll be seeing Staci's name in many more Triangle playbills in the future.

Thirdly appearing is Laura Singleton Jenkins in the role of Dinah Grayson, the wisecracking overachieving lawyer. This is Laura's first appearance at TIP; but you're sure to have seen her on stage before, like in Sunday in the Park with George at Burning Coal Theatre Company. Laura is not only an amazing actor and singer, she is also a savvy mixologist, and a lawyer in real life.

The Theatre in the Park cast for The Sweet Delilah Swim Club includes (from left) Tina Vance as Vernadette Simms, Benji Taylor Jones
as Sheree Hollinger, Staci Sabarsky as Lexie Richards, and Laura Singleton Jenkins as Dinah Grayson (photo by Christine Rapp)

Tina Vance's appearances are always sight gags, because she plays the part of the accident-prone Vernadette Simms. Acutely aware of the dark cloud that hangs over her life, Vernadette continues on, often to comic effect. If you don't laugh immediately when you meet Vernadette, just wait a few minutes. Tina delivers quite a few zingers in this show, along with a showstopping comic rant while wearing oven mitts and wielding a spatula.

Last to appear is Bonnie Webster as the sweet eager-to-please Jeri Neal McFeeley, who experiences a late entry into motherhood that takes everyone by surprise. Bonnie has both stage, film, and TV acting credits, including Patriot Games opposite Harrison Ford and a recurring role on NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street. Bonnie's next gig is directing Sordid Lives at the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre (NRACT) this Fall.

Theatre in the Park's production staff was great to work with. Technical director Josh W. Martin has designed us a terrific beach-house set, with some colorful artistic twists that involve a big beautiful sun and use of video projections. Guest lighting designer Corey Arnold has artfully created all the specific moods needed for the four scenes (two in Act 1 and two in Act 2) -- each taking place in a different year at a different time of day with different weather.

Assistant technical director Abigail Kuchar has had the daunting task of hunting down hard-to-find props from the 1980's and supplying all kinds of challenging food items. And speaking of hard-to-find, our costumer Tracey Gallagher has probably visited every thrift store in the Triangle, looking for key costume pieces that express the era and also the personality of the wearer. Our wig/hair technician, Andrea Marks, has added the final touch with wigs and hairdos that show the progression of the characters through time.

But now my work as a director is almost done. It's time for the cast and the crew, under the guidance of our stage manager, Christine Rapp and assistant stage manager Gabrielle Martin, to take over and run the show. The play is two hours long, with the first act lasting one hour, a 15-minute intermission, and the second act running 45 minutes.

The first Sunday matinee on June 5th is already sold out! So, I encourage audiences who want to enjoy a light and happy comedy to click here to buy tickets today!

The June 5th Sunday matinee of the Theatre in the Park production of The Sweet Delilah Swim Club, starring Bonnie Webster
(left) as Jeri Neal McFeeley and Laura Singleton Jenkins as Dinah Grayson, is SOLD OUT! (photo by Christine Rapp)

Jones • Hope • Wooten's THE SWEET DELILAH SWIM CLUB (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, June 3-5, 9-12, and 17-19), directed by Nancy Gardner Rich and starring Benji Taylor Jones as Sheree Hollinger, Staci Sabarsky as Lexie Richards, Laura Singleton Jenkins as Dinah Grayson, Tina Vance as Vernadette Simms, and Bonnie Webster as Jeri Neal McFeeley (Theatre in the Park in the Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre in Raleigh). VIDEOS: 2022 SEASON: THE PRESENTER/VENUE:,,,, and DIRECTIONS: PARKING: COVID REQUIREMENTS (scroll down): THE SHOW: and THE SCRIPT (excerpts): TICKETS: $28.96 ($23.60 students, seniors 60+, and active-duty military personnel), except $20.38 per person for groups of 10 or more. Click here to buy tickets. (NOTE: The Sunday, June 5th, matinee is SOLD OUT.) GROUP SALES (10+ tickets): Call 919-831-6058 or click here. INFORMATION: 919-831-6058 or PLEASE DONATE TO: Theatre in the Park.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy Gardner Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women's Theatre Festival.


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