Colette Delaney, Rita Thomas, and Tina Jo Wallace in
Church Basement Ladies: The Last Potluck Supper.
Photo-Derby Dinner Playhouse


Church Basement Ladies: The Last Potluck Supper

Inspired by the books of Janet Martin and Suzann Nelson
Book by Greta Grosch, with Music and Lyrics by Drew Jansen
Directed by Bekki Jo Schneider

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Within a rural Minnesota town a quartet of ladies, known as the Church Basement Ladies, lead by their former pastor Rev. Gunderson; converge in preparation for their church’s Centennial celebration. While all may be merry and bright, this would be the last meal that is prepared in their beloved basement. The church is closing.

Within this group we have three generations of families that have been a part of the church formed in the late 1890’s. The matriarch of the church family, Vivian Snustad, is having a hard time letting go of the church that her family had founded so many years ago, as well as coming to terms with the changes that swirl around her. Mother and daughter, Karin Engelson and Beverly Hauge, respectively, are in charge of the selling of the contents of the church. Rounding out the dinner doyennes is farmer Mavis Gilmerson, who is the workhorse of the group.

As the ladies go about with their final servings of hot dishes and egg coffee, they reminisce of many times that the church basement was pivotal in their lives. I got a kick out of the way that the flashbacks were set up. I’ll just say that the use of lighting and a mirrored ball was clever staging. With songs like “You Can Learn A Lot About a Lady”, the upbeat “Mom-Bo”, the disco-pop infused “This Gal”, the first act was infused with spirit and hopefulness, especially when jokes and funny observations were flying high and fast.

However, despite the fun and hard-to-perform Auctioneer music ‘bump’, expertly performed by the entertaining Cary Wiger (in multiple roles), the second act leaned more towards the maudlin. Even the closing number, “We Move On”, wasn’t as uplifting as I would have liked. This heavy-handed sentimentality of the text, which is characteristic of all the Church Ladies plays I have experienced, oversells the melodrama and undercuts the emotion of the story.

The cast shines in spite of this. Colette Delaney’s Karin is reminiscent of the quintessential housewife of a returning soldier, with a bit of Jacqueline Kennedy style (Sharon Harrah’s costuming was spot on). Katelyn Webb’s Beverly is fun to watch as she juggles young motherhood with unseen rambunctious children and caused many to laugh out loud during one of the flashbacks when she was first pregnant. Rita Thomas as Vivian? What can I say? She inhabited Vivian as if she was in fact that character, sass and all. Tina Jo Wallace’s Mavis, from the first beat on stage, was fearless and funny: clearly the comic relief of the quartet, but also the most realistic and authentic.

Entertaining choreography from Barbara F. Cullen, well cast music direction from Scott Bradley and Bekki Jo Schneider’s direction makes for a trip to the basement well worth taking.

Bravo Tutti.

Church Basement Ladies: The Last Potluck Supper

August 12 – September 27, 2015

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
(812) 288-8281


Annette Skaggs[box_light]Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]