Play captures humor, heart of kitchen
Lutheran church basement in 1960s provides setting for Interplayers’ latest show
Since its debut at Minnesota’s Plymouth Playhouse in 2005, the musical comedy “Church Basement Ladies” has inspired three sequels and has been performed by various troupes around the country.
The play’s upcoming run at Interplayers marks its Northwest premiere.
Written by Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke, and with music and lyrics by Drew Jansen, the show is an evocation of a specific time and place – rural Minnesota in the 1960s. Set in the basement kitchen of a Lutheran church, we see several years unfold in the lives of four women as they prepare feasts for the congregations of various functions, including a Christmas and an Easter dinner, a wedding and a funeral.
It’s not all business, however – they argue, gossip, reminisce, and lament that time is passing them by.
“Like any good friends, they’re different but they tolerate each other,” said Kathy Doyle-Lipe, who plays harried farmer’s wife Mavis (she describes her as “a tough old broad”). They also cope with the church’s recently widowed pastor, who occasionally escapes his responsibilities by retreating into the kitchen, which is strictly the women’s domain.
Jerry Scarrio plays the pastor. The other three basement ladies are played by Susan Windham, Jennifer Jacobs and Sarah Uptagrafft.
Inspired by the book “Growing Up Lutheran” by Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann J. Nelson, “Church Basement Ladies” is certainly about the witty back-and-forth of this quartet of tough, brassy women (think “Steel Magnolias” meets “Nunsense”), but it also deals with the culture clash between the progressive and the traditional.
Doyle-Lipe says the show also evokes a certain nostalgia. “One of the characters reminds me of my aunt, and another one reminds me of my mother,” she said. “Although I won’t say which ones,” she added with a laugh.
But the play, directed by Michael Weaver, deals heavily with themes of religious acceptance and broadening worldviews, as the oldest of the church ladies clings desperately to her old-fashioned beliefs while society (and her own church) changes around her.
“It’s very entertaining and with a heart,” Doyle-Lipe said of the show. “It’s not just pure shtick.”
Despite its Midwestern quirk and period setting, Doyle-Lipe says the musical’s appeal is far from exclusive and that audiences of all ages and backgrounds will find something to adore. “And I hope they have a good laugh or two,” she said. “We all need that nowadays.”