Northwestern Press

Monday, October 22, 2018

Theater Review: The ‘Ladies’ are back at The Pines

Friday, April 27, 2018 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

It may be that my expectations were too high, but I found The Pines Dinner Theatre’s musical comedy offering through May 13, “A Second Helping: The Church Basement Ladies Sequel,” to be a disappointment.

Despite moderately funny one-liners and a couple of beautifully poignant scenes, the new script by Greta Grosch is no match for the original.

The sequel, co-produced and directed by Oliver Blatt, finds the Minnesota Lutheran ladies still in the basement kitchen in 1969, four years since they first confronted their changes of life and the changes in life.

That’s the crux of the problem. During the April 14 performance, seen for this review, very little seems to have changed for the women or their narrow world in the basement. They are the same characters still complaining about the pastor’s new wife, who isn’t so new anymore, and telling the same kind of jokes about much the same things that they did before.

Mavis (Karen Querns Dupper) is the loud-mouth gossip who knows everything about everybody. Karin (Legera Danielides) frets about her daughter who scandalously married a Catholic and moved away in the first script, which is still a topic of conversation. The daughter Beverly (Seana Benz) returns home with a surprise, ushering in the only significant difference in the plot.

Uptight Vivian (Jan Labellarte) is predictably shocked at the discussion of the procreation of animals. In the second act, she does admit that she needs to change, but she says she doesn’t know how. The author of “A Second Helping,” who did not write the original “Church Basement Ladies,” doesn’t seem to know how to change things either.

Through the sounds coming from an off-stage “television,” the audience is given virtual glimpses of the reality of the changing world outside: the election of Richard Nixon as president, the Vietnam War and Minnesota’s loss in the Super Bowl. But somehow the relevance gets lost.

A few of the same hysterical antics from the original script are tried in the sequel, but despite the best energetic efforts of the cast, they often fall flat. Pregnant Beverly’s attempts to climb into the freezer to get cool lacked the hilarity of Mavis trying to do the same thing to ward off hot flashes in the earlier version. Dan Baker, reprising his role as the pastor, is still running around in a grass skirt, but it seems far less funny the second time around.

Despite the script’s flaws, as a musical, with music and lyrics by Dennis Curley and Drew Jansen, “A Second Helping” is certainly entertaining. Mavis sings with gusto, and Karin and Beverly’s numbers showcase beautiful singing. There also are some genuinely poignant moments, and a very touching scene involving the quilt of life.

Blatt’s creative sound and lighting effects, coupled with the sanitized kitchen set, added positively to the experience.

Tickets: Pines Dinner Theatre box office, 448 N. 17th St., Allentown; pinesdinnertheatre.com; 610-433-2333