Surveying the audience at a recent matinee of The Church Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement, I wasn't surprised to see that apart from a couple of gents in backwards baseball caps likely tagging along with their family, I was the youngest person in the house. But that's life at a matinee, especially for a show like the latest in the long-running, extremely popular Church Basement Ladies series.
So knowing I wasn't the target demographic (though my mother, who accompanied me, certainly was -- even if we are Catholic), what did I take away from the experience?
First off, this production, the fourth in the series, is certainly not as bad as the last installment, a Christmas celebration that made me want to wish off the holiday once and for all. (Reports are that a revival of that production improved it, but I couldn't take that chance and passed when it returned.) This time around songs are better, the story is more engaging, and the natural talents of the five-person cast are highlighted to good effect.
Second, if you don't like conflict in your theater, this may be the show for you. Set in rural Minnesota in 1960, the biggest challenges here seem to be preparing for confirmation and the pastor's upcoming marriage. Oh sure, there are occasional hiccups along the way, but the biggest crisis any of them face is that earthy Mavis is going to lose part of her farm to the new highway... that the government is going to pay her for. Not quite as bad as the Joads here.
Mind you, that lack of conflict does make the show drag, especially in the overly long first act. Things do build up a bit in the second act, especially with some fun slapstick on the day of the pastor's wedding, which is a man-in-a-dress away from a fully fledged farce. That gives Greta Grosch (who also wrote the script) a chance to use her considerable physical comedy skills to full effect.
Most of all, the show passes as intended: a pleasant diversion for a couple of hours. There are some nice comic songs along the way (written by Drew Jansen) about learning to drive and stiff-necked Lutheran love. The other characters get their moments, especially younger mother Karin (Dorian Chalmers) who lets her repressed insides out from time to time. There's even a nice message that the Catholics aren't that much different than the Lutherans, as the church basements are nearly identical. (Apart from a case of Hamm's beer in the fridge. Score one for the Papists.)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement certainly meets its ambitions and will certainly be another hit for the Plymouth Playhouse (the Thursday matinee was sold out). So I give it a passive Minnesota "eh, it wasn't all that bad" grade in the end.
A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement is in an open run at the Plymouth Playhouse.