Lutherans in the Twin Cities, Reviews

The church basement ladies move on

‘The Last (Potluck) Supper’ brings major transition in the five-part series

The Church Basement Ladies react to a new smell in the kitchen when a third generation enters the scene. From left, the Ladies are Tara Borman (Beverly), Janet Paone (Mrs. Lars Snustad/Vivian), Greta Grosch (Mrs. Gilmer Gilmerson/Mavis), Dorian Chalmers (Mrs. Elroy Engleson/Karin). Photo credit: John Connelly

The Last (Potluck) Supper. 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.plymouthplayhouse.com.

Change isn’t just for dollars anymore. Nope. Change comes to Lutheran congregations too, … even fictional ones.

The inevitability of change is the theme of The Last (Potluck) Supper, the fifth installment of the Church Basement Ladies franchise. Following on the successful storytelling of A Second Helping, Away in the Basement, and A Mighty Fortress is the Basement, as well as the original, this show brings the story full circle.

Set in 1979, The Last (Potluck) Supper recounts preparations for the celebration of East Cornucopia Lutheran Church’s 100th anniversary. Unfortunately, for the characters there are several twists to the plot.

First, while congregants are celebrating the notable history of the church and what it has meant for its community, characters are simultaneously dealing with a major transition — the closing of the church, caused by dwindling attendance as young people (and the congregation’s pastor) are exported to the Twin Cities.

Scandinavian Lutherans like to hold on to things the way they are. But the world is changing.

Second, Mrs. Elroy Engleson, also known as Karin (Dorian Chalmers), who once doubted that women belonged in church leadership, is now the president of the congregation’s council. It is on her watch that the decision for the congregation to cease existence is made.

Third, widow Vivian Snustad must come to deal with issues of closure — in her personal and spiritual lives.

“We see this story through the eyes of Vivian,” explained playwright and actress Greta Grosch (playing Mavis Gilmerson). “Like her, as Scandinavian Lutherans, we like to hold on to things the way they are. But the world is changing, and change makes us become better and richer.”

Whether audience members are seeing the Church Basement Ladies for the first time or have been regular attendees over the years, they will be changed themselves, watching with some degree of melancholy what is planned to be the final play of the series.

An ending or a fresh start?

Grosch was a bit circumspect about the conclusion of the popular franchise. “When I first started writing the screenplays [with the second iteration of the show], I envisioned that there would be five shows.

“Normally, at some point, a series needs to find a new point of reference or it starts to be the same story over and over again,” Grosch told Metro Lutheran. “The entire franchise needs a new spin to stay fresh.”

A series of flashbacks provide that fresh look in The Last (Potluck) Supper. The entire history of the East Cornucopia congregation (from the perspective of the basement) is told in the family stories of the main characters. Some remind viewers of earlier shows; others dig back beyond the setting of the first offering.

“I have built an entire history of the congregation,” said Grosch. “There are many untold stories that are part of its history, but they are just in my head, … and now written out for the director to see.”

The Last (Potluck) Supper is playing at Plymouth Playhouse through February. It was workshopped at The Reis Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, where this reviewer saw the show.

Memorable numbers in the show include arranger Dennis Curley’s “An Old Wooden Spoon,” “The 24-Hour MOM-Bo,” and, the show’s signature tune, “We Move On.” The choreography for most of the numbers is very memorable, but especially the creative use of kitchen utensils in “MOM-Bo.”

While the physical humor will keep viewers laughing, there is no getting around that it might be time for everyone now to move on.

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