(Above: A scene from The Very Little Theatre’s outdoor production of Ministers of Grace; photo and poster design by Jessica Ruth Baker)

By Kelly Oristano

Eugene community theater is back. More importantly, the Eugene theater community is back. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that it never left.

The Very Little Theatre did more than survive the pandemic, it flourished. In the past year-and-a-bit under, with its YouTube imprimatur the “Virtual Little Theatre,” VLT has published no fewer than 12 originally produced video plays, ranging in runtime from 7 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes.

Many of these were local originals — “farm-to-table” one might say — as well as premiere productions of new work by local writers. In addition to those 20-something hours of programming, they also produced eight episodes of a half-hour, semi-improv soap opera, Shelter Place, plus a successful online PBS-style fundraiser and, later, the groundbreaking ceremony which that fundraiser enabled.

The Virtual Little Theatre is the brainchild and pandemic labor of love largely of one person, Russell Dyball. His commitment to keeping the VLT community communing and working and creating together has left its mark on everything they’ve put out since the initial Covid shutdown.

And now, perhaps as a reward for his year of saintly work, or perhaps as a continuation of it, Dyball has gathered a host of VLT and Eugene’s greatest people and performers together again in person. On Saturday and Sunday evening, Aug. 7 and 8, in their very own magically transformed parking lot, VLT will present Ministers of Grace, an “Unauthorized Retelling” of Ghostbusters in the style of Shakespeare, written by Jordan Monsell and directed by Dyball. It’s a free, all ages, general admission show put up, according to the VLTers, “as a thank you for enduring the closure of arts institutions in Eugene during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Donations will be accepted.

Dyball, Scott Frazier-Maskiell, Melanie Moser, and Kizzi van Lake star in Ministers of Grace as Sirs Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston, Doctors of Philosophy and Physick, famous frauds who eventually become the Ministers of Grace.

Kari Welch and Eric Braman chew the scenery as Dana and Louis (Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis in the film). Jennifer Appleby Chu is a riot as Janine, who also provides live music at key points.

Adam Leonard, Jessica Ruth Baker, Scott Machado, Gabrielle Morse, Blake Beardsley, and Hillary Ferguson round out the cast and shine as all of the Ghouls and Geezers who populate this energetic version of Elizabethan London as it is comically plagued by apparitions.

The crew includes Marleena Pearson as stage manager and Elena Morris as sound designer.

Under Dyball’s direction, Ministers of Grace is less “Shakespeare in the Park” and more “Ghostbusters at the Globe Theatre.” Aside from needing microphones outside, all the stagecraft is very low-tech and fairly low budget, but used to brilliant effect.

Sir Egon, for example, could not have had a pocket calculator and a PKE meter in Elizabethan times, so they make calculations on an abacus, and the ghost detector more closely resembles a dowsing rod, which is to say, a stick. The Ministers can’t have an Ecto-Mobile, so they have an (amusingly cramped) Ecto-Carriage. Even the scene transitions are fun, with whatever cast member is available bringing out a fancy Elizabethan title card and shouting the new setting to the audience. It seems like the idea is for the audience to shout along, like the Globe’s groundlings.

The low-tech stagecraft is disarmingly effective throughout. The few instances of “sliming” are fun and inventive. Most of the wonderful special effects you remember from the film will be replicated here as the cast is able. The levitation of Dana/Zuul is especially clever, and the climactic battle achieves the massive scope we all remember by expanding the playing space the actors use for that scene. Necessity being the mother of invention, this cast have invented some marvelous tricks for your eyes and ears.

Jordan Monsell’s script holds a great deal of interest on its own. As some of the cast have noted, pretty much every line and scene (save one too risqué for modern family audiences) is Shakespearized, but it doesn’t stop there. Ministers of Grace lets us learn a great deal more about Slimer (AKA Onionhead,) than we learn in the films. Without spoiling it, I will say the Slimer scene was one of my favorite local stage moments in many years, well-conceived by Monsell and well-executed by this cast.

And somehow, going scene-by-scene and line-by-line shows us new things in the old story. I was particularly moved to see how Dana Barrett’s struggles with misogyny played so differently in the Elizabethan era. Seeing her bounce between men who are nowhere near worthy of her spanned the centuries between the original and the retelling in an instant, the same sad story, sadder for its endurance through time.

Likewise, when Walter Peck (Scott Machado) shows up to call an end to the Ministers’ fun, we recognize that nosy, self-satisfied bureaucrats can be easily spotted and feel right at home in any epoch. There’s more than enough to laugh at and more than enough to think about, depending on one’s inclination as a theatergoer.

This production is basically constant fun. It’s witty, wry fun at the beginning, then clever stagecraft fun in the middle, then all-hell-breaking-loose fun at the end.

Consider rewatching the film before attending, but regardless: Attend!

Ministers of Grace: An Unauthorized Shakespearean Parody of “Ghostbusters”

When: 7 p.m. on Aug. 7 and 8

Where: North parking lot of the Very Little Theatre, 2350 Hilyard St.

Details:Live and in-person

Where: 2350 Hilyard St, Eugene, North parking lot.

Tickets: Free, general admission, all ages welcome. Donations to support VLT welcome at the event or online at

Information: Telephone 541-344-7751; email; online at