Taking an unexpected departure from the traditional musical fare, Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre debuted Church Basement Ladies for the first time in Indianapolis. The five-person show, about a group of women who rule the roost in a church’s basement kitchen, started July 22nd, and will enjoy an extended run until September 3rd. All told, the Cal Ripken-esque troupe will perform this show 54 times.
The 13-song musical is about four women who run a church’s kitchen, where they’ll tell you the real action can be found. Whether they’re preparing lutefisk for the Christmas dinner, or whomping up a batch of Watkins Nectar for a Hawaiian Eastern fundraiser, the women work to keep their pastor and his “new wife” in line, and deal with the problems that come with the fast-changing world of 1964.
The story is based on the humor writings of Janet Martin and Suzann Nelson, authors of Growing Up Lutheran, and captures many of the idiosyncrasies and quirks found in our neighbors to the Northwest. (Not that we don’t have our own here in Indiana; who remembers haystack suppers and pancake breakfast fundraisers?)
But even if you’re not a Minnesotan, anyone who grew up with church suppers, church fundraisers, and church weddings, will recognize Signe and Karin Engelson, Mrs. Gilmerson, and of course, Mrs. Snustad, all ably played by actresses from outside Indiana, as well as Beef & Boards favorite, Eddie Curry, as Pastor Gunderson.
I’m typically not a musical fan, except for the occasional unexpected deviation from my curmudgeonly norm. But I had heard good things about Church Basement Ladies from Patricia Rettig, as well as a couple other arts writers, so I thought I would check it out.
In short, I liked it. It was a fun play, it was a story I could relate to (even as a lifelong Hoosier), and the comedy was outstanding (which means it’s either timeless, or I’m getting old). I found myself laughing at Mrs. Snustad’s stern looks, and Mavis Gilermson’s physical comedy (the 30 seconds she spent climbing off a freezer was priceless). I could understand Signe’s frustration with trying to rebel against the Old Guard’s ideas of womanhood and independence. And I was appropriately annoyed by Mrs. Snustad’s irrational fear of “The Cities,” although the song about Minneapolis-St. Paul was brilliant.
Anyone who likes eating and likes theatre (note the snooty British spelling) is going to enjoy the Beef & Boards. Not only do they serve a buffet dinner — we had roast beef, fried chicken, fish, and veggies; all that was missing was green bean casserole, given the theme of the evening — but you get dessert in between acts.
Tickets for the show range from $35 to $58, and include dinner, a fruit and salad bar, and free refills on coffee, tea, and lemonade (not soft drinks! Found this out the hard way.). For reservations, you can visit the Beef & Boards website or call them at (317) 872-9664.
Photo credit: Beef & Boards