Strong Performances In Powerful Drama

If you manage to survive infancy, childhood, teenage, young adulthood and middle age with a minimum of medical mishaps, you should reasonably expect to head into what is euphemistically referred to as your “golden years,” right?

Today, unfortunately, the answer too often is — wrong.

The shadows of dementia and Alzheimer’s hover over those heading into their final years and, increasingly, over many decidedly younger.

The journey of one woman into this unyielding darkness, and its affect on those in her life, is powerfully played out in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production “The Other Place,” on stage through Sunday in the Warner Theatre.

Juliana Smithton (Melissa Manier), age 52, is a professor-turned-drug company scientist. Speaking at a medical convention, ostensibly in support of a new drug that would help combat neurological diseases, she suddenly loses touch with reality, something she attributes to her belief that she is suffering from a brain tumor. She blames her distraction on seeing a girl in a yellow swimsuit among the male listeners.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreResisting help from her husband Ian (Roy Bronkema), an oncologist who is uncertain of her self-diagnosis and whom she alternately clings to and pushes away as she struggles to hold on to an ever-elusive reality. She fights therapy and, as her mind wanders, experiences phone conversations from a long lost daughter and struggles to return to “the other place,” a Cape Cod cottage once owned by the family, where she is sure she will find her missing daughter.

An encounter there with the new owner, at first hostile then sympathetic, eventually leads to some realization of what is happening.

Her gradual but inevitable slide is terrifying to her and equally horrific for her husband, the target of her increasingly vitriolic attacks, who struggles for any way to help his wife in a situation he realizes can only become worse.

Playwright Sharr White’s script is deftly crafted to keep the audience in a state of uncertainty as to whether Juliana is experiencing fact or fancy.

Under the sensitive direction of Aaron Nichols, the four member cast creates the shadowy world of mental illness, making the 90-minute (no intermission) a truly emotionally riveting experience.

The most riveting is Manier, whose delusions become her reality with incredibly painful consequences. Her attempts to desperately hang on to the phantoms she believes real are shattering and, in the end, infinitely empathetic. It is a fully realized and emotionally draining portrayal of the onset of “the great darkness,” one of the most frightening conditions in a world full of frightening conditions.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBronkema delivers an equally powerful performance as the frustrated husband, stretched to the end of his own rational thinking and suffering helplessly in tandem with his wife.

The roles of the daughter, the therapist and the now-owner of “the other place” are created skillfully by Courtney Qualls who manages to instill each with its own persona. The final scene between the owner and Juliana is truly heartwrenching.

Michael Clarkson as “The Man” creates the son-in-law Juliana accuses of responsibility for her daughter’s disappearance. Or was he?

Jacee Rohick’s textured scenic design sets the solid decking of a summer place against the semi-transparency of floating panels which finally disappear into a triangulated reality.

Two slim streams of sand flow from the ceiling to flank the stage, ending just prior to curtain time. Obviously the elusive and ever-shifting sands of time. Don’t let them run out before seeing this excellent production.

THE OTHER PLACE” runs through Sunday in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theater. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Swim Club Members Share Life, Laughs

It comes as no surprise that some of the friendships we make in high school and college are the ones that last for life.

Such are those between the five protagonists of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production “The Dixie Swim Club.”

The comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House and, within 10 minutes, had the audience laughing, a condition that continued in some degree throughout the four scenes of the two-hour (including intermission) show.

The title obviously indicates the collegiate activity that brought them together. The timeline covers 33 years of an annual August weekend in a summer cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Th cottage is owned by Sheree (Stephanie Yoder), team captain and daughter of the coach, who still sees her assignment as making sure everything — and everyone — is in order. This includes serving her “signature” hors d’oeuvres which gathering members profess to love and quickly get rid of when she’s not looking..

Dixie Swim Club Elkjart Civic Theatre Bristol INEach of the characters has a definite if not stereotypical persona. It is to their credit, and to director Tim Yoder, that the “types” soon become individuals, easy to identify among our own acquaintances.

Lexi (Mary Norwood) is the much-married matron, working on her third husband as the action begins and looking for number five at the conclusion. Fashion and appearance are at the top of her list and plastic surgery tops motherhood.

Making up for Lexi’s lack of maternal instinct is the self-deprecating Vernadette (Jennifer Ross), whose children are frequently just this side of the law. Tolerating her abusive husband, she faces life and its many obstacles with a sharp, stinging wit. Her diatribe in defense of southern biscuits is a real show-stopper and her sense of comic timing and delivery cannot be taught.

Dixie Swim Club  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INRepresenting the law is Dinah (Stacey LeVan Nickel), an unmarried attorney with a cynical outlook and a predeliction for martinis. Her success in the courtroom makes up for her lonely personal life.

Completing the aquatic quintet is Jeri Neal (Laura Mosher), a soft-spoken late-bloomer whose unexpected appearance provides a real shock to them all.

Tim Yoder and his assistant director Demaree Dufour Noneman have chosen the right actresses for the roles and the camaraderie that brings — and holds — them together is the bricks and mortar of this less-than-heavyweight look at life. The finale is more a “Steel Magnolias” wannabe and not necessary to enforce the strength of the comradeship.

It should be noted that Mosher and Ross are making their first appearances for ECT. They are in the company of veterans and the entire ensemble works well and easily together.

Since the action requires the players to age 33 years, wigs are required and, for the most part, serve well. The physical ages, which according to the program timeline had to end in mid 70s at the final curtain, were less believable.

The setting, by John Shoup makes a shore cottage the perfect place to spend much more than a weekend.

Actually, I’m ready to hit the beach!

‘THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB’ plays through May 22 in the Bristol Opera House. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit