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ACT play review: 'Church Basement Ladies: Away in the Basement'

In dialogue and song, we learn the many machinations that keep a church’s membership fed, entertained and devoted. Directed by Ruth Sejnoha, the show is comedic, acerbic and touching.

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Mitchell Area Community Theatre (Courtesy photo)
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What is the foundation of a church? Its stalwart members who faithfully tithe to keep the roof repaired and the pastor paid? The charismatic leader who can grow the congregation? All are important, but I would propose it’s the church ladies who metaphorically and literally hold up the church with their care and concern.

Mitchell Area Community Theatre’s holiday production of “Church Basement Ladies: Away in the Basement” by Greta Gorsch with music and lyrics by Dennis Curley and Drew Jansen, takes us back to 1959 and introduces us to a group of busy ladies (translated busy bodies) and their pastor, who are vigorously preparing for the evening’s Christmas pageant. In dialogue and song, we learn the many machinations that keep a church’s membership fed, entertained and devoted. Directed by Ruth Sejnoha, the show is comedic, acerbic and touching.

This veteran cast creates an immersive experience for the audience. You can almost hear the cacophony of the unseen children upstairs, the weary tread of the offstage custodian who is called to clean up yet another vomit episode, or the winter wind howling in the eaves as the ladies come and go preparing for the beloved annual event.

Beverly (Kate Ahlers) is the teenage daughter of Karin (Noel Ahlers) who is conscripted into playing Mary in the pageant for the last year she is eligible. Karin is a competent, no-nonsense Lutheran who makes sure the coffee pot is always on. Mavis (Kate Miller) is an energetic farm wife who can fix a doorknob as fast as she can butcher a sheep. The church basement’s de facto commander is elderly Mrs. Snustad (Renea Schoenfelder) who rules the roost, ensuring that operations are in order. Widowed Pastor (Kevin Carroll) is steered and shepherded by this crew of women who have perfected the art of baking while simultaneously stage managing.

Julie Brookbank
Julie Brookbank

The songs are well delivered and each revives a memory of what it was like to be a kid in a church pageant (“[Everybody is a Kid Again] At Christmastime”) or that no matter how hard you work to make Christmas special, there is “Always One More Thing.” Each actor is a strong singer, and they make full use of the stage space to deliver dynamic musical numbers. Standout performances were delivered by Noel Ahlers (Piñata) and the ensemble “Jeg Er Så Glad.” Music direction from Corbin Kramer and Cade Bruna, along with choreography by Devin Carey enhance each number.

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The set design by Sejnoha and Carey is period perfect, right down to the Philco fridge and the Corningware coffee pot. You’ll be transported to a church basement in your past with frilly aprons and a “no snowboot” rule in the kitchen. The show is excellently costumed by Sejnoha and Kayla White.

The pride that these ladies take in their church kitchen domain is still on display in many a church this time of year. Generations of women have cleaned, cooked, served, cleaned again, wiped noses and wiped floors. I’m glad that Mitchell ACT is celebrating them this holiday season. You’ll be glad, too.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, Dec. 9, and Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theater or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.

Related Topics: MITCHELLCOMMENTARYTHEATER
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