After its initial success in 2005 at Minneapolis’ Plymouth Playhouse (where it continues even now) and following tours in 56 other cities, Church Basement Ladies has settled into TPAC for what its producers hope will be a healthy run into July.
There’s a chance the show might make it in Music City, this being a town where religion and religious culture are important considerations. Just possibly, enough Nashvillians will be taken with the play’s harmless humor and wholesome, small-town nostalgia. Yet people who like their theater with an edge are urged to stay away.
What we have here is Nunsense with a Lutheran twist. Four typical Minnesota church ladies (not the Dana Carvey kind) slave away dutifully in the basement kitchen of the East Cornucopia Lutheran Church of the Prairie, preparing Scandinavian-style food for various weddings, funerals and fundraisers. They are joined quite often by nerdy Pastor Gunderson, who is admittedly more at home there than he is tending to his flock upstairs. Through two acts (too long by probably one), they banter glibly about lutefisk, the severe winter weather, farm life, the lineage of local families, their suspicions of Catholicism and the evils of the big city (in this case, the Twin Cities, dubbed “the Sodom and Gomorrah of the prairie”).
There are a few laughs at first. But Jim Stowell and Jessica Zuehlke’s script, while sturdy in its understanding of the simple Midwestern mind-set of 40 years ago, plays out like like a tepid Saturday Night Live sketch that never ends. Character quirks and themes get milked ad nauseam, the discussion of food is relentless, and when one of the ladies starts dealing with her hot flashes in over-the-top slapstick fashion, it’s time to start praying for the merciful closing number.
There are saving graces. The cast is polished, full of energy and much better than their material. The standout is Stella Fasanello, who plays the perky daughter of one of the regular church ladies. She’s got musical comedy pizazz worth watching and hearing, though even she gets caught in the trap of a nonsensical subplot that drags the show to its long-awaited conclusion.
The songs by Drew Jansen—also on hand to play the piano accompaniment—are professionally rendered, his music a smorgasbord of lively styles, his lyrics tight and always rhyming true.
If Church Basement Ladies were trimmed to 90 minutes and presented all in one sitting, it would probably be more palatable. Certainly more so than lutefisk. As it is, it plays out like a long-winded Sunday sermon: the final words bring a sigh of relief.
This weekend offers theatergoers the last chance to catch the Donelson Senior Center for the Arts’ latest production, Hello Dolly Jerry Herman’s 1960s musical warhorse still holds a few tuneful numbers, including the all-too-familiar title song. Still, Michael Stewart’s book is fairly hackneyed, even though it was based on Thornton Wilder’s deft comedy The Matchmaker. The generally weak cast that director Kaine Riggan has assembled doesn’t help matters, and the staging itself is unimaginative, doing little to stave off the players’ penchant for hamming it up. In the leading role, veteran actress Holly Butler makes a game attempt to invest the proceedings with some style and class, but it’s more often than not an uphill battle. The big gimmick here is the appearance of the six Nashville mayoral candidates—David Briley, Bob Clement, Karl Dean, Buck Dozier, Kenneth Eaton and Howard Gentry—who have been taking nightly cameos on a rotating basis. The play continues through April 28. For tickets, or for more information on the pols’ performance schedule, phone 883-8375.
This summer’s Nashville Shakespeare Festival production has a twist: two plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Two Gentleman of Verona, will run in more or less repertory fashion from Aug. 16 to Sept. 9. In an interesting move designed both to generate buzz and to bring the public closer to the theatrical process, the fest will hold its open auditions for non-Equity actors at the company’s regular performance venue, the Centennial Park band shell, on April 28 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“These auditions are ordinarily held in private,” says Denice Hicks, NSF’s artistic director. “But in this way the public can experience what is usually the most frightening part of an actor’s process, while the other actors learn by watching their peers in audition.”
Audition participants are asked to prepare one Shakespearean comedic monologue, not to exceed two minutes, along with 16 bars of an a cappella song of their choice. Actors may also demonstrate their clowning techniques (juggling, etc.). Brenda Sparks is the director for Merry Wives; Claire Syler directs Two Gentlemen. The public is also encouraged to bring along their canine companions to audition for the role of Crab the Dog, featured in the latter production.
Students interested in NSF’s Apprentice Company and all Equity actors will be auditioned by appointment at another time. For more information, phone 255-2273.
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That clip is horrifying. It looks like postmortem makeup. Very uncanny valley.
AGGGHHHH that last picture!