The 3,000th “Church Basement Ladies” performance at the Plymouth Playhouse Friday evening went a lot like the previous 2,999. Songs were sung, jokes were made, and there was plenty of gentle prodding of mid-20th-century Scandinavian Lutherans.
Even for a “CBL” show, the stakes are low in “Away in the Basement.” It’s 1959 and the ladies and the pastor are getting ready for the annual Christmas pageant. Fifteen-year-old Beverly is showing some Eisenhower-era sass and doesn’t want to play Mary anymore.
Meanwhile, conservative Vivian doesn’t like the newfangled red hymnals, or the woman from “the Cities” who has stolen the widowed pastor’s heart.
That part — a lonely man finding new hope in a most appropriate season — gives Tim Drake a bit more to chew on than usual as the pastor. Janet Paone also lets us see beneath Vivian’s hard exterior as we learn how the widow spends each Christmas.
“Away in the Basement” is as comfortable as a favorite Christmas sweater. There is such easy chemistry among the long-standing cast that both the familiar jokes and the message land. Even newcomer Robbie Mancina, who steps into Mavis’ big boots behind writer Greta Grosch, has been an understudy and touring player in the part for more than a decade.
Drew Jansen’s songs use lots of era-specific inspiration, like the Frank Sinatra-inspired “Reindeer Rendezvous” and the self-explanatory “Whatsoever You Doo-Wop.” That, along with Wendy Short Hays’ sturdy direction, makes for an easygoing evening of Christmas cheer.
Away in the Basement
What: Written by Greta Grosch and Drew Jansen. Directed by Wendy Short Hays.
Where: Plymouth Playhouse, 2705 Annapolis Lane, Plymouth.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 1 p.m. Tue.-Thu. Ends Dec. 31.
Tickets: $23-$34. 763-553-1600, ext. 1; plymouthplayhouse.com
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.