INCORRUPTIBLE (Arden): Laughter in the monastery

The set of Michael Hollinger’s witty INCORRUPTIBLE looks like it has been there for hundreds of years, transporting one back to the days of monks and minstrels. At the Abbey of Priseaux, the bones of St. Foy, the patron saint, lie on the altar, but have not produced a miracle in over a decade. As the pantry runs bare, and the needy are turned away, the monks are reduced to wringing pennies from skeptical peasants, hoping that the miracle-barren bones will bring them better luck.

Ian Merrill Peakes, Mary Martello, and Paul L. Nolan in Arden Theatre Company’s Incorruptible by Michael Hollinger. Photo by Mark Garvin

Ian Merrill Peakes, Mary Martello, and Paul L. Nolan in Arden Theatre Company’s Incorruptible by Michael Hollinger. Photo by Mark Garvin

The actors ease through Hollinger’s script, jumping from joke to joke to running gag. Matthew Decker’s direction matches Hollinger’s wit, and small touches from the creative team (scenic designer James Kronzer and costume designer Lauren Perigard)—replacing the monks’ dreary brown sack robes with white habits, and stained glass windows popping up in the second act—complete the trifecta of cleverness.

With starvation impending, the monk’s only hope is a visit from the Pope and the injection of funds the pilgrims following him will bring. Hopes come crashing down, however, when a rival convent draws the Pope’s attention with none other than St. Foy’s bones—and this set produces miracles.

The impostor bones send the monastery into a flurry. According to Brother Monk Felix (Josh Carpenter), a one-eyed minstrel (Michael Doherty) dug up and sold the bones of a pig farmer to the convent. One of the more, shall we say, industrious monks (Ian Merrill Peakes) realizes the potential of the church graveyard. Dragged away from his wife-to-be (Alex Keiper)—the dancer in his act and the town whore—the minstrel guides the church to prosperity through digging up and branding various body parts as those of saints.

Josh Carpenter and Michael Doherty in Arden Theatre Company’s Incorruptible by Michael Hollinger. Photo by Mark Garvin

Josh Carpenter and Michael Doherty in Arden Theatre Company’s Incorruptible by Michael Hollinger. Photo by Mark Garvin

If you closed your eyes and listened to the haggling and semantic tricks of the monks, you might think you were on a used car sales lot. Though this dark comedy is set in the dark ages, the language and pacing is modern and fresh. The juxtaposition of free wheeling 21st-century dialogue spoken by monks in tattered robes adds extra comedy. While there is a lot to navigate in bridging these two time periods, the choices are consistent and bring to light a new way to look at events in both eras.

INCORRUPTIBLE has a healthy dose of slapstick comedy, with Olf (Sam Sherburne), a less than bright monk interjecting at inconvenient moments, and crazy stunts pulled right under the Abbott’s nose (Paul L. Nolan) going unnoticed due to intense prayer. The plot twists and turns and loops back around, and while predictable, INCORRUPTIBLE is more about the laughter than nail-biting suspense. Still, amid the sitcom-style banter and timing, Hollinger asks stirring questions about faith and corruption that still have me thinking… and chuckling. [Arden Theatre, 40 N. Second Street]  May 22-June 22, 2014; ardentheatre.org.

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About the author

Nicole Forrester

Nicole Forrester grew up memorizing Shakespeare’s sonnets for allowance money, and for years has rigorously attended FringeArts and Philadelphia theater offerings in general. Among activities including aerial acrobatics, event planning, and sketch comedy, she still considers theater, and now review, her favorite method of adventure.