Casting fits well in 'Dixie Club'



Jim Hendricks


ALBANY — Of all the work that goes into staging a play, none is more critical than casting the characters. An actor has to develop a rapport with the audience that creates a believable performance and, more importantly, makes the audience care what happens to the character.

That job of matching people and roles falls to Theatre Albany Artistic Director Mark Costello, who is directing the two-week run of “The Dixie Swim Club” that opens Thursday night.

“One of the great things I think Mark Costello does is casting,” Kathleen Stroup, a 14-year veteran of Theatre Albany, said in an interview Friday. “At lot of times I’ll audition for a show and I’ll have a preconceived notion about a part I want to play and invariably ... I am wrong.

“He’ll cast me in a different role and, at first, I’m disappointed because I wanted the other one, but it works out for the best. The way he fits people into the various roles, to me that is the best thing he does among a lot of great things he does.”

“The Dixie Swim Club” has five strong roles that have to maintain their individuality while also melding together as an ensemble. Dinah (Deborah Liss-Green) is a wisecracking cynic; Lexie (Francie Michas), a true Southern belle; Jeri (Kelly Mullin), a ditzy ray of sunshine; Sheree (Flo Reneau), the perennial team captain, and hard-luck Vernadette (Stroup, who is featured in today’s “On Stage with ...” interview).

“Each of the ladies in the show all have attributes that fit each of the characters — eccentricities, characteristics or whatever,” Costello said Friday. “It really is a good, solid cast.

“I was fortunate that these were the ones who showed up. Sometimes you’re just lucky when that happens. Sometimes you have to shape or fit someone to a role, but each of these brought something of their own character to the show.”

What should the audience expect?

“A fun evening,” Costello said. “Very likable characters. Seeing people who have strong friendships that have lasted over so many years. They bonded in college as a swim team and they just decided that they loved each other, respect each other and need each other. So, every summer since that college time, they rent a cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and they get together ... (to talk about) news about their lives, catch up with their lives, work out some problems with their lives and just go out and have fun.”

One thing Costello said he wants to create on stage is characters, not caricatures.

“I warn my cast not to be too Southern,” he said. “I don’t want them to be caricatures. I want them to be recognizable people that you may know in your community.”

The play was written by the team of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. This is the third performance Theatre Albany has staged from that team’s work. The previous two were “Christmas Bells” and “’Til Beth Do Us Part.”

“This show’s being done all over the country,” Costello said, noting performances that have taken place or are upcoming in Macon; Columbus; Panama City, Fla., and Brevard, N.C. “It’s a very popular show.”

One of the benefits of the writing team’s work is they have heavily female casts.

“Unfortunately, sometimes we have trouble getting men to come out and audition for some shows,” Costello said. “With that in mind when I’m picking a season, I can’t go a heavy male show because I may not have enough men come out. But I hope they will because we have a lot of opportunities.”

Not that Costello wants “Dixie Club” to be seen as a play that only appeals to women.

“I don’t want men to think it’s a women’s show,” he said, adding men will “have fun, too. You’ll go, That’s my wife, that’s my sister, something like that.”

And in theater, everything is timing.

“Now with the graduations over and everything like that,” Costello said, “maybe people will go looking for some good, live entertainment.”