The first lady of the church and the stage stretches in a comedy


Greta Oglesby knows all too well the upheaval that can occur when the roles she plays on stage and on screen collide with those she plays in real life.

The Twin Cities actor, whose performance in the Guthrie Theater’s “Caroline, or Change” is fondly remembered, is also a pastor’s wife, which means she’s the first lady of his congregation. Her husband, Reverend Dennis Oglesby, has held senior pastoral positions at Park Avenue United Methodist Church and Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, among others.

More than a decade ago, she played a sex worker in “Into Temptation,” Patrick Coyle’s 2009 independent film starring Kristin Chenoweth and filmed in Minnesota.

“There was one night when I was standing on Hennepin Avenue outside a strip club called Augie’s in prostitute attire — wig, fur, everything,” Oglesby recalled, which led her to pray. “Lord, please don’t let any member of my church see me here like this.”

She hadn’t played such a role before or since – and her devotees who saw her praised her for her range. Starting this weekend, she’s giving them something to talk about again in Jen Silverman’s “The Roommate.”

In the tangy stage comedy, her first, Oglesby plays a newly divorced Midwesterner who shares a room with a vegan lesbian with a shady past. The two women try to reinvent themselves.

“Roommate” premieres Thursday at Mixed Blood Theater and is produced by Main productionsa Twin Cities company that seeks to “explore, illuminate and support [the stories of] women over fifty. »

Master the laughs

“It’s like ‘Grace and Frankie’ meeting ‘Breaking Bad,'” director Greta Grosch said, referring to shows where plots take a wittily ridiculous and absurd twist. “We have to earn the right for people to care about us, and the way to do that is to make them laugh. That’s what’s so magical about comedy.”

Oglesby works hard to find the funny, Grosch said. She brings the same discipline that she brought to all of her roles. Still, it’s worth noting that she’s mastered the timing and physics needed to draw laughs, as she’s best known for her serious roles in August Wilson and Shakespearean plays.

“First of all, Greta has all kinds of talents – singing, acting – and she’s a real dramatic actress, not just a singer who kind of crossed over,” said Penumbra Theater founder Lou Bellamy, who cast Oglesby in shows by Wilson, James Baldwin and others. “She has that depth and gravity that God gave her. August was so impressed with her that he wrote [the character] Bertha for her in ‘Joe Turner’s [Come and Gone’].”

“She embodies the ideals of a top actor – someone who sets the tone with her work ethic and great discipline,” said Marcela Lorca, who directed Oglesby in “Caroline.” Because she hasn’t had any formal theater training, she has an incredible appetite to learn.”

As she sat in a Minneapolis cafe before a rehearsal last week, beaming in her white and blue print blouse, Oglesby reflected on her background. She was an accountant working for the city of Chicago and a longtime church singer when she answered an ad seeking voices for a musical at the Chicago Theater Company, called “Mens.”

When she went to the audition, she had no photo or resume. But people heard him sing and that was it.

“I went to school for finance, not acting — so this stuff came up and I walked through the door,” Oglesby said. “I always say, ‘Lord, always let me be found somewhere using your gifts in a way that honors you.'”

This first broadcast in 1993 allowed her to see her true vocation at work, which she considers to be a ministry. This brought her to Broadway, where she dubbed Phylicia Rashad as the matriarch in “A Raisin in the Sun.” She also performed this role in Milwaukee, Chicago and at the Park Square Theater in St Paul.

Not about glitz or glamor

But it’s her role as Caroline, the maid in Tony Kushner’s musical who sings an 11 o’clock number called “Lot’s Wife,” that remains indelible. Kushner congratulated her on her gifts. Composer Jeanine Tesori invited Oglesby to sing it at a concert at Lincoln Center.

“It’s not about the money and the glitz and the glamor for me,” Oglesby said. “It’s about being part of something that can change lives. And, oh my God, I can’t tell you how many people waited for me after ‘Caroline’ to say thank you, you changed my life .”

On screen, Oglesby played Mama Josie in “Queenpins,” the comedy scam starring Kristen Bell. And she has a recurring role on the NBC television show “Chicago PD.” During the pandemic, Lorca co-directed a film version of Oglesby’s book, “Handprints.”

That’s all to say that the grass will not grow under his feet.

“I’m a middle-aged woman, so people ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?'” Oglesby said. “My question for them is to retire from what? It’s to get up and do what I love to do every day.”

As Oglesby walked into the “Roommate” rehearsal, which was taking place in a church, his co-star, Alison Edwards, briefly stuck her head out.

“Greta and Alison are great actresses, so their instinct is to come down and play honest,” Grosch said. “But I constantly challenge them to step out of their comfort zone. I’m faster, stronger, more physical, and it’s really fun to watch them flourish.”

The room mate
Who: By Jen Silverman. Directed by Greta Grosch for Prime Productions.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
When7:30 p.m. Thurs-Fri, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends June 19.
Tickets: $20-$32.


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