PHOTO COURTESY OF BEEF & BOARDS Mavis Gilmerson (Karen Pappas) reads from the “Church’s Black Book” as she helps a young lady with her religious studies.
PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN PAPPAS William Christopher (of “M*A*S*H” fame) and Pappas enjoy some quiet time after one of their shows when they were on national tour with the Church Basement Ladies. Christopher played the part of Pastor Gunderson, which is reprised by Eddie Curry in Beef & Boards’ latest show in the Church Basement Ladies series, “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement.”
By Patricia Reddig Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre
In the popular musical comedy series about the Church Basement Ladies, perhaps the most memorable and certainly the zaniest of them is Mavis Gilmerson, the farm wife who faces hot flashes, tells unappetizing tales, drives a truck that’s seen better days and is always ready with a joke or a helping hand.
Returning to reprise the hilarious Mavis in the all-new Church Basement Ladies show, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement,” is Wanamaker native Karen Pappas, who originated the role at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre when the series began there in 2010.
“She’s goofy, sweet, kind, wacky, a little nuts, and we all have a crazy aunt somewhere that reminds us of her,” Pappas said of Mavis. “Her innocence and her ignorance get her into funny situations, and yet she has a very down-to-earth side and a big heart.”
And Pappas has come to know Mavis well, having played the role in two national tours, both with William Christopher – famous for his role as Father Mulcahy in the TV series “M*A*S*H” – as Pastor Gunderson. “He is one of the most gracious, humble and talented actors I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “I’d love to work with him again. We were always the ones who arrived at the theatre and would go together to hunt down the coffee pot before we would start work.”
As for Mavis, Pappas said she can relate to the character. “I’m a little bit of a country girl. I can get into a lot of trouble all by myself. I’m a bit of a doofus.”
But Beef & Boards audiences also know Pappas as the Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella,” Abby in “Arsenic & Old Lace,” Ma Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a teacher in “High School Musical” and also as the gym teacher in “Hairspray.” Her career beyond Beef & Boards and the Church Basement Ladies has included the 10th anniversary national tour of “Footloose” and a national tour of “A Christmas Carol.”
Pappas graduated from Franklin Central High School and went on to further her education at IUPUI, North Carolina School of the Arts, as well as The Art and Work Ensemble and The Singers Forum, both based in New York City, where she resides.
So how did this Franklin Township native become the ideal actress to play a wacky Norwegian Minnesotan? It began with her father.
“I started out singing with my dad. He is a guitarist/vocalist who worked in nightclubs all over Indianapolis,” Pappas explained. “I started in drama in high school at age 15.”
Then it was simply a matter of great timing.
“Curt Wollen (president and executive producer/director of Troupe America, which originated the series), who I had worked with on several productions, called me up one day and said he had the perfect part for me in his new show and would I want to tour it for a year,” Pappas recalled. “It was perfect timing since I was out of work. I did two national tours for him.”
Having performed in the Church Basement Ladies series across the country, Pappas pointed out that the Lutheran humor and church basement setting are relatable well beyond Minnesota’s borders.
“Everyone can relate to this show,” she said. “Each of these characters are real people, and we all have one of them in our lives or have met someone like them before. We know who they are. So many times I hear people say to me, you remind me of …”
She should know. Pappas has traveled to every state in the nation except Alaska, and every province in Canada. But she particularly enjoys returning home to Indianapolis and to Beef & Boards-. “Everyone here makes me feel like I’m family when I work here. The production values are great and professional. The audiences are always a treat, and we have returning audiences to this show, which makes it even more special.”
And she knows these faithful followers will enjoy “A Mighty Fortress is Our Basement.” “They’ll find the same things that they find great about the first three shows – the combination of finding hilarious situations coupled with heartfelt moments. Everyday happenings we can all relate to, played out by people we can point to and say, ‘OMG! Aunt so and so did the same thing!’ ”
Also returning to reprise their roles in this show are Licia Watson as Vivian Snustad, Hillary Smith as Beverly Engelson and Eddie Curry as Pastor Gunderson. Carrie SaLoutos joins the cast in the role of Beverly’s mother, Karin Engelson.
The show is on stage through Aug. 17. Tickets, which can be reserved by calling 872-9664, range from $38.50 to $63.50 and include a buffet dinner. Discounts are available for children ages 3 to 15 and groups of 20 more. Visit www.beefandboards for a schedule.