Rita Thomas, Tina Jo Wallace, and Colette Delaney in Mighty is Our Basement.
Photo-Derby Dinner Playhouse


The Church Basement Ladies in
A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement

Written by Greta Grosch
Inspired by the Books of Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann Nelson
Music and Lyrics by Drew Jansen
Produced and Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highly

Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Derby Dinner’s production of Church Basement Ladies a few years ago. I thought it was competently performed, but the material just felt like a wasted opportunity; the concept sounded like it would be a lot of fun, but it just kind of left me cold. A sequel, Church Basement Ladies II, soon followed.

I’m pleased to say that a third entry in the series, A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement, currently in performance at the Playhouse, is an improvement on almost every level. The very scant storyline this time is a series of vignettes built around two events: the Confirmation of fifteen-year-old Beverly (Katelyn Webb) and the impending nuptials of widower Pastor Gunderson (Cary Wiger).

A different writer has done the script work this time, and the difference shows; the humor is stronger and the laughs much bigger. It also has opened the action up significantly; while still set primarily in a kitchen in the basement of a Minnesota Lutheran church, there are scenes also set in a car, a state fair, and in the church proper, all quite imaginatively staged by director Bekki Jo Schneider.

While some of their Minnesota accents tend to come and go the cast does an incredible job of creating some larger than life characters. Rita Thomas steals the show as the very set-in-her-ways Vivian; even though it’s a routine ripped right off of Nunsense, her moment of accidental inebriety in the last scene is the funniest thing in the piece. Colette Delaney is a joy as Beverly’s mom Karin, finding the humor in the role of a mother struggling with watching her daughter grow up. Tina Jo Wallace is just hysterical (and reminds me more than a little of Mo Collins’ Lorraine character from Mad TV) as Mavis, the most crass and unladylike of the bunch, who wears her status as a farmer’s wife as a badge of honor. Webb is very convincing as naïve teenager Beverly, and Wiger is engaging as the Pastor, who remains unflappable and upbeat even as everything goes wrong on his wedding day.

The arena staging works well with Ron Riall’s production design, which if memory serves is the same set as the previous production, and it’s all served quite nicely by Aaron Hutto’s lighting. Drew Jansen’s songs are serviceable, if not particularly memorable.

The whole thing was well received by the Friday night audience I saw it with. It is a fun evening of theater that doesn’t require its audience to think too much about the plot and doesn’t moralize or make any kind of a heavy statement. And I have to say; it is refreshing to enjoy theater just for the entertainment value for a change.


The Church Basement Ladies in
A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement

Featuring Colette Delaney, Rita Thomas, Tina Jo Wallace, Katelyn Webb, and Cary Wiger.

August 19 – October 5, 2014

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129