Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Rise Up O Men Rises to the Occasion

Our second TCTB blogger night was a blast - please join us next time! 

Photo credit: Paul Nixdorf
If you're a theater fan living in central Minnesota, chances are you've heard of the Church Basement Ladies (CBL).

This huge hit, which first premiered at Plymouth Playhouse in 2005, has been making the rounds all over America in various iterations for the last 11 years. The latest and sixth installment, Rise Up O Men, debuted last weekend at Plymouth Playhouse, and it's a keeper.

A disclaimer about demographics should be made here: I found this show hilarious (somehow this is the first CBL installment I've ever seen). I also come from a long, proud tradition of Lutheran families, many of whom grew up in the Midwest in small towns. Ergo, I am perfectly poised to "get" these jokes. If you are not of this demographic you can still enjoy this show - but you may find certain elements of the humor over your head or just plain dumb. You're not wrong; you're just not Lutheran.

Back to the performance. Rise Up O Men is the first in the CBL series to include more than a single male character on-stage. In this show, the men (a pastor and two husbands, Elroy and Carl, as well as a smattering of others) take turns narrating, performing manly maintenance in the church basement kitchen, performing at talent shows, and preparing the church for the town's very special upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebration. The show is loosely centered around the planning and hosting of this Diamond Jubilee celebration, although it feels a little more like a series of small vignettes in the lives of the characters.
Photo credit: Paul Nixdorf
Either way it works. This is a very vanilla show, but that doesn't mean it isn't funny or charming. It plays off of mid-20th century gender stereotypes well, and does a great job of spoofing the small town world of the Lutheran church. The real scene stealers are of course the Church Basement Ladies themselves (Mavis, Karin and Vivian, all played here by the original actresses from the first show in 2005), all of whom hold the show together with their spunk and salty facial expressions.

Janet Paone is the keystone of the show as Vivian, the vengeful Widow Snustad who has a heart of gold despite her snarky, controlling personality. Paone is straight up hilarious in the show's funniest song "Disaster," where she charges into the church basement kitchen, which is full of the men's repair mess, clad in Wonderbread bags and shrieking about the men's invasion of her "sanctuary." It's a total hoot and awesome in a George Bernard Shaw-meets-Wagner kind of way. Greta Grosch is heartily charming as the handy farm-wife Mavis, and her chemistry with Paone is as comfy as American apple pie. Dorian Chalmers is lovely as Karin and plays the 1960s housewife role with ease. All have voices that blend beautifully, particularly in the show's loveliest song "And Now These Three."
Photo credit: Paul Nixdorf
Tim Drake perfectly nails the humble countenance of Pastor and the eccentric nature of Arlo, the church's oldest parishioner. Jeff March is charming as the narrator and Karin's husband Elroy. He's a new addition to the cast but Lutheran humility shines through his role, and I'd love to see him stick around for future productions; he fits in perfectly. Peter Colburn is also a new addition as Carl, the taciturn parishioner with a heart of gold. Colburn nails the hardworking farmer type, and I can also see him heading up future productions (because if one thing is for sure, CBL will continue to be around for a long, long time).

Rise Up O Men is a great show for small town folks who don't mind seeing a slice of their life poked at on stage. It brought back warm memories from my upbringing in a small town (hey there Staples, MN!) and is a creamsicle delight for those who yearn for the days when moms were home, dads worked with their hands, and everyone knew the hymns by heart. For more information on the show or to buy tickets, click on this link.

Photo credit: Paul Nixdorf
This was also our second ever sponsored Twin Cities Theater Bloggers night. We helped work with the panel of cast members who spoke at the post-show talk back and were hosted for dinner at the Green Mill by Plymouth Playhouse. I was pleasantly surprised at how great the Green Mill food was - I haven't been there in ages and it was totally yummy - and it was so nice to have a chance to group up with fellow theater enthusiasts and commiserate about this and upcoming shows.
I mean...honestly Green Mill, check out that lobster mac! #delish
If you are a fellow theater fan, please follow us on Facebook and get involved! We are always working on more events like this one - which to-date have involved Talk Backs with the cast (this one was fabulous, as the actors had also written the show - we learned everything there was to know!), happy hours in theater lobbies, and monthly Twitter chats themed around local theater. All the information can be found on our Facebook page - please make sure to check it out! And check out the amazing blogs of my fellow writers - they can all be found by clicking on this link.
Our talk backs are so fun - this one was especially great! You should come.