Church Basement Ladies

Laughter of Recognition

The laughter echoed throughout the sold-out house as Victoria Playhouse Petrolia marked its 2014 season opener with Church Basement Ladies.  And it is laughter of recognition, whether the audience has memories of cooking in a church basement in the sixties, or feels the discomfort of hot flashes today.

The Church Basement Ladies are Norwegian Lutherans living in small town Minnesota.  I’ve never spent any time in Minnesota, nor do I know any Norwegian Lutherans.  But I certainly recognized these church basement ladies.  They could be cooking in any United Church basement in small town Ontario.  I knew them well, from my days as a child in the sixties, running errands for my mom, as she was mashing potatoes for the church’s turkey supper.

That’s what the Petrolia audience loves – the recognition factor.  Director David Hogan reports that the show is hosting busloads of church ladies from across the province – so much so, that it is now sold out for the run.  People like to laugh at their own foibles.Church Basement 2

We follow the ladies over a three year period as they and the church go through change.  The generation gap is evident and adds to the comedy. Barbara Barsky plays Vivian, the senior lady.  She feels the kitchen is hers as she has worked in it the longest.  She also clashes with Signe, the university student who has moved to the cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul). Barsky shows how she learns to change and catch up to the times, in spite of herself. It’s fun to watch the prim and proper church lady let her guard down.

Gail Hakala as Mavis provides much of the comedy.  From slopping around in her galoshes, to flapping her dress and falling into the freezer when she is overcome with a hot flash, Hakala has the audience roaring.  With her coconut bikini and grass skirt, singing “My Own Personal Island”, Hakala combines her powerful singing voice with her knack for humour very well.

Stephanie Roth and Rebecca McCauley are delightful as the mother-daughter team Karin and Signe.  Both have rich full voices.  They have created warmth and chemistry between them, a seemingly believable mother-daughter relationship, realistic but still funny.   Mark Weatherley goes over the top as Rev. Gunderson. The audience eats it up as he uses physical comedy and facial expressions to in response to the church ladies.

This is an adorable and clever musical with catchy tunes and witty lyrics.  But most of the laughter comes from the recognition factor – we love to see ourselves on stage and have a chuckle at our own expense. Those of us from small town Ontario can easily identify with these characters.

Church Basement Ladies continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 1st.  Tickets are available at the VPP box office at 519-882-1221 or 1-800-717-7694 or visit .

Church Basement Ladies
Written by Jim Stowell  & Jessica Zuehlke, based on the book “Growing Up Lutheran” by Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Nelson
Music & Lyrics by Drew Jansen
Directed by David Rogers & David Hogan
Musical direction by Mark Payne
Performed by Barbara Barsky, Gail Hakala, Rebecca McCauley, Stephanie Roth & Mark Weatherley
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
May 20 to June 1, 2014
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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