‘The Church Ladies’ find a new hoopla

With a heart to help and do good around the community, “The Church Ladies” manage to get themselves into trouble, once again. Pictured are Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Sister Carolyn Law, left, who plays the part of Protestant Pastor Anderson, and Sister Elise Saggau, whose character Elsie Sagoo is very talented and has won several awards.

“The Church Ladies” are back in Little Falls again, trying to be good, but despite their best efforts manage to get themselves into trouble.

“This is our fifth year of putting on this dinner theater production,” said Robyn Gray, director and playwright of this year’s “Church Ladies’ Hoopla.” She is also the executive director of St. Francis Music Center.

Judith Hecht, who is co-producing this year’s play with Laura Wagner, said that a different play is presented each year. But those who have followed the “Church Ladies” have also gotten to know their personalities. It’s simply the same characters, but a new adventure each year, she said.

Some of the previous productions were Church Ladies Save the World, Church Ladies, Church Ladies’ Extravaganza, Church Ladies Unite and Church Ladies’ Holiday Bizarre.

“It’s so much fun to watch. Even from night to night it’s different,” said Rose Surma, executive director of Oasis Central Minnesota — a non-profit organization that addresses food and housing issues in Morrison County.

The “Church Ladies” productions began as a fundraiser for Oasis, Gray said.

Some of the characters are played by real Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls.

The character of Elsie Sagoo is played by Sister Elise Saggau.

“She’s always enjoyed entering contests and has been remarkably successful. Her incredible talents have made her one of the most award-winning church ladies,” Hecht said.

Sister Carolyn Law plays the character of “Pastor Anderson.”

“She’s a pastor of an unknown denomination in the play. Her character is always calm and well-grounded. That is, until Beatrice (played by Ann March) serves her non-alcoholic Jello shots,” Hecht said.

Hecht herself plays the character of Agnes. She’s well-known for her “scrumptious buns.”

Visitors will have the opportunity to purchase some of her buns during the nights of the show, she said.

In the production, Gray plays Mother Superior who knows all and sees all. She’s also in charge of all, both Catholics and Lutherans.

Prudence, who is usually not invited, has a tendency to crash the productions. She is played by no other than local comedian, Jason Schommer.

Vicki Spofford, who was instrumental in founding Oasis with her husband, Greg, in 1988, plays “Alma.”

Spofford said Alma has sung in the church choir for many years and loves the Church Ladies, especially “those Lutheran and Catholics.” However, sometimes she forgets which church she belongs to.

“She’s also famous for her lefse and Robert Redford dessert that is sometimes referred to as ‘Better than Sex Cake,’ Spofford said.

Spofford and Becky Nelson are the musical directors for the play.

Hecht said that at times audience members may be called to participate in some manner. However, the night of the show, audience members may purchase insurance for a low cost to avoid being called.

“But if someone else offers a bribe that is more than the insurance cost, then the person has to come up. On the other hand, we won’t force anyone who absolutely doesn’t want to,” Hecht said.

The Church Ladies’ Hoopla will be shown at Falls Ballroom, Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 9 – 10, with doors opening at 5 p.m., dinner served at 6 p.m. and the show starting at 7 p.m.

Tickets (meal included) may be purchased by calling Oasis at (320) 632-9140 or online at www.oasiscm.org. Tickets will not be sold at the door.

Visitors may purchase the Church Ladies’ Cookbook at the event, which is filled with various recipes, including some from the show, such as Agnes’ famous buns.

Gray said she and the cast look forward to showing Little Falls and surrounding communities what the Church Ladies are all about.

“It’s such a good feeling to have people laughing so hard they’re screaming,” Gray said.