Thursday, August 5

Beef and Boards: Church Basement Ladies

Church Basement Ladies, based on the writings of Janet Letness Martin and Suzann Nelson, is currently playing to sold-out audiences at Beef and Boards, 9301 N. Michigan Road. The setting is a familiar one to most of us: a church basement. The cast of five represents two elderly women, one middle-aged woman, her daughter and the pastor of a Lutheran church. The story begins in 1964, in a small town in Minnesota.

The plot is as old as time, the changing of the guard from one generation to the next. No one probably takes it harder than a woman whose identity is as strongly defined as that of a church basement lady.

Toiling through decades of potlucks, weddings, funerals and holidays, these women, under-appreciated and overworked, become territorial when younger generations want to change things up a bit. Add in the leader of the church with a new wife, one who clearly does not fit in, and the comedy of real life ensues.

The audience was kept entertained by the culture, food and language of our friends from the north, along with the antics of Mavis Gilmerson, portrayed by Karen Pappas who was last seen in High School Musical. With the heaviest Minnesotan accent among the cast, Pappas’ physical comedic abilities kept the performance flowing and the audience laughing.

Playing off Gilmerson’s zaniness were overly judgmental Mrs. Snustad (Licia Watson), mediator Karin Engelson (Katherine Proctor) and rebel college student Signe Engelson (Lisa Bark).

Caught between the upstairs congregation and the downstairs matriarchs was Pastor Gunderson, portrayed by Eddie Curry.

If it sounds a little like a northern version of Steel Magnolias, you’re almost correct. There are no frills, however, in the lower floor of the barely-making-it church with a need for a new furnace, a new maintenance hero and with meals to make on a shoestring budget. However, laughter still proves to be the best medicine.

Teachings of Norwegian foods, lutefisk, dried cod, rommegrot, a pudding, and krumkake, a cookie, are blended with common Minnesota sayings. Life lessons of humility, strength, courage and friendship are learned through laughter, fighting and cooking.

Elizabeth J. Musgrave is a syndicated columnist, travel writer and theater critic. Catch her as Indy’s Arts & Entertainment Adviser on 93.1 WIBC and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and at Comments can be sent to

This column was originally published in the following newspapers: South Sider Voice, West Side Community News, New Palestine Reporter, West Indianapolis Community News, Pendleton Times Reporter, Fortville-McCordsville Reporter

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