Lutherans in Minnesota

Where leftovers trump being left behind

Church Basement Ladies offering nails Lutheran take on confirmation and church weddings

A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement. The Church Basement Ladies. Now playing at Plymouth Playhouse, I-494 and State Hwy 55, Plymouth, Minnesota. For prices, call 763/553-1600. Group tickets: 763/383-1073. www.ply mouthplayhouse.com.

What’s in the basement this timeline?

If the third time’s the charm, what does that make the fourth time? Well, in the case of The Church Basement Ladies theatrical opening into the lives of congregants of East Cornucopia Lutheran Church in 1960, it means a rip-roaring good time.

That’s right, A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement, the fourth installment in the Church Basement Ladies series, recaptures some of the original sparkle while developing the show’s characters in significant ways.

The cast of Church Basement Ladies: A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement offer an entertaining look at all things Lutheran. From left: Janet Paone (Mrs. Lars Snustad—Vivian), Tara Borman (Beverly Engelson), Greta Grosch (Mrs. Gilmer Gilmerson—Mavis), and Dorian Chalmers (Mrs. Elroy Engelson—Karin). Photo Credit: Kelly Klatt

The plot of A Mighty Fortress interweaves Beverly Engelson’s (Tara Bowman) impending confirmation, Pastor’s (Tim Drake) upcoming wedding, and the county fair that ties it all together. Set in 1960, the play captures the anticipation of changes brought by Vatican II and the cultural revolution soon to follow, without taking potshots at those wonderfully faithful women who provided the practical maintenance of Lutheran congregations.

A Mighty Fortress opens with Beverly fretting over the very public testing that in those days accompanied a student’s confirmation. She doesn’t get much support from her church basement accomplices, as they wonder what the world’s coming to since the confirmants don’t have to “memorize The Small Catechism in Norwegian anymore” and offer “Confirmation is supposed to be unpleasant; it’s a tradition.”

But, Beverly’s real questions are about what this all means for her life more than how she will get through the event itself. There her basement co-workers are more helpful, with Mrs. Gilmer Gilmerson (Greta Grosch) suggesting that she “act as if you believe, and after awhile faith will find you.”

The troupe follows its own advice. They act as if they believe in this show, making it easy for the audience to have faith in the production. With a strong script by Grosch, and poignant lyrics and music by Drew Jansen, this show is worth the time.

Don’t fear the basement

Of course, making a theatrical production can be like making sausage or legislation. There’s a lot that goes into it that the public never sees.

On the rehearsal set in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, just two weeks before the opening in Grand Rapids, choreographer Wendy Short Hays (center) helps actors put dance cues into the script. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

Just 10 days before the show is set to open at the Rief Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the cast and crew is working on the choreography for “The Twist.” While clearly having fun with the choreography, cast members start to ask questions about how this scene fits with the whole. In the end, audiences won’t see this scene, and one or two others, that were cut due to either time or content concerns.

“We don’t become attached to any particular words,” Dorian Chalmers, who plays Karin Engelson, tells Metro Lutheran. This show, like the others, she explains, allows for this type of creativity. Since cast members know each other so well, they can take risks that become part of the show.

“And audiences love the characters,” adds Grosch, “and they want to see how they develop; they want to be able to fill in the blanks.” She assures that this show will do just that.

The crowd at the July 29 show in Grand Rapids seemed to prove Grosch’s point. Laughing approvingly throughout, the crowd was on its proverbial feet within seconds of the closing riff of the gospel-oriented postlude.

With an ever-developing script, good direction becomes essential. A Mighty Fortress is directed by Curt Wollan.

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