IncorruptibleAlex Keiper (Marie), Michael Doherty (Jack), Sam Sherburne (Olf), Ian Merrill Peakes (Martin), Mary Martello (Peasant Woman), and Paul L. Nolan (Charles) in Incorruptible. Photo by Mark Garvin
By Michael Hollinger
Directed by Matthew Decker
Arden Theatre Co
May 22- June 22
Michael Hollinger play Opus explored the vital synergy between musicians of a string quartet to meet the artistry of chamber music and his dialogue is just as dynamic. In his play Incorruptible, the comedy is bouncing off the church walls. First produced by the Arden Theatre in the mid-90s, it’s back for a lethally funny revival. This broad farce about a medieval Catholic parish on the skids is rich with scabrous burnt offerings. Sweeney Todd meets the Producers in sackcloth.
Hollinger is such a good comic writer that he doesn’t have to take any cheap shots; he builds the comedic conflict around some very funny situations and characters. Brother Martin is the 12-century actuary trying to keep a French monastery afloat. Things are so bad he chases peasants for pennies for their prayer privileges and the pantry is so empty he is looking at the at the donkeys in the yard for his next meal. His woes are not quelled by Charles, the abbot, who informs him that the bones of a Saint on the altar of another parish is casting miracles and the faithful are flocking there.
Things take a turn when a peasant woman tries to pimp out her daughter Marie and her no-good minstrel boyfriend One-eyed Jack to the priests, whose celibacy seems to be negotiable. Hollinger keeps the plot devises greased as via the Minstrel’s ugly talents of blackmail and the occasional dismemberment to facilitate riches pouring into the churches coffers. Meanwhile, Jack has more than one epiphany.
Act II has the Parish teaming with cash and stained glass enough to rescue poor families and do mission work, but the ends are not justified by the means as Brother Felix tries to steer them back to goodness.
Even though some of the scenes get shticky with some double-loaded punch lines, this is the highest lowbrow character comedy around.
Ian Merrill Peakes is the hyper Brother Martin in a pitch perfect comic performance is a dark ages Felix Unger. Paul Nolan’s Abbot is a master furtive mugger and to hear him summon his sister name, the Abbess Agatha, is worth the price of admission. Michael Doherty seems self-conscious in the opening minstrel scenes, but makes the switch to his monk life believable and even funnier than his campy jester outfit.
Alex Keiper gives Marie more than ingénue charm and has great chemistry with both Doherty and Josh Carpenter, who plays the earnest Brother Felix with a secret past. And no one in the battlement walls hasn’t a prayer in the presence of the hilariously droll Mary Martello as the Peasant Woman or Marcia Saunders as the annihilating Abbess Agatha.
Directed by Matthew Decker makes the most of this sardonic soufflé with obvious keen eye for its physical comedy ingredients. Jorge Cousineau’s sound design has a ghostly sanctuary echo in moments that are delightfully musical. Not being Catholic, I didn’t know that the title had such a specific religious meaning, so don’t want to give that away, only to say, zombies, eat your hearts out.