Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Incorruptible"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
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By Caroline Burlingham Ellis

Rapscallion monks go into the miracle business

This review first appeared in the Wayland Town Crier

Serene voices fill the darkness of the tiny Vokes Theatre with Gregorian chants as the curtain rises on a 13th Century French monastery in Michael Hollinger's farce "Incorruptible." The play's title refers both to an ideal standard of behavior and a holy relic called an "incorruptible," the body of a saint that never decays.

The monastery at Priseaux has fallen on hard times, and the monks can no longer succor the poor or even feed themselves. The bones of their patron saint have stopped producing miracles, and miracles are a prerequisite for pilgrims and donations. Over in the town of Bernay, however, the fierce little abbess (Anne Damon) has promoted some bones of questionable origin so aggressively that the faithful are being cured right and left, and money is rolling in.

The ethically challenged Brother Martin (played with fiendish aplomb by Dan Kelly) feels frustrated. "We took a vow of poverty to help the helpless, not to become them … We can't sell the books. No one else knows how to read." The monk has reason to believe that the bones at Bernays are fakes and that what is creating income-producing miracles there is people's faith that the relics are those of a saint. There might be other ways to make money from faith, he reasons. Why not dig up the bones in the monastery graveyard and sell them as saints' bones? The monks can't succor the poor peasants of Priseaux without some source of funds.

The abbot (David Berti) is at first shocked, but ultimately comes to see that the ends could justify the means. Spurring him on is his intense sibling rivalry with the abbess of Bernay, his sister. Brother Olf (Andy Brown) is too dimwitted to object much, and Brother Felix (Jeff Mahoney) puts obedience above his horror of telling lies. Needless to say, high jinx and laughter ensue, as the run-down monastery starts to be able to afford such luxuries as stained-glass windows.

A typical farce relies heavily on timing and tone, with unexpected guests falling out of closets at the most inopportune moment and being shoved back in before the wrong people see them. Similarly, "Incorruptible" features such antics as Jack (David Wood), the minstrel-turned-monk, hiding girlfriend Marie (Aimee Doherty) in a bag identical to the bags used for skeletons. Under John Barrett's direction, the timing of this and other shenanigans gradually picks up speed.

But the play's tone is another issue. The playwright tries to combine farcical cynicism with seriousness about faith-based miracles. The characters' roles have not been written with the kind of complexity that would keep solemnity from sounding a jarring note. And there are aspects of some characters that don't make sense. Actress Mikki Lipsey, who represents the impoverished multitudes of Priseaux, seems pretty tough and resilient -- hardly so desperate as to force compassionate monks to leave the straight and narrow for the sake of the suffering peasants. And her daughter Marie seems a bit refined for a girl who willingly supports her mother by sleeping with all and sundry. Marie ultimately experiences a kind of miracle like the transformation of Aldonza to Dulcinea in "The Man of La Mancha," but the change is less convincing.

Anne Damon as the abbess is a triumph. Her late appearance in the proceedings provides a burst of energy. Damon's unequivocally corrupt firebrand keeps her feet firmly planted in the realm of farce. It is great to see this longtime Vokes actress in a role so perfectly suited to her comic talent.

Triple-threat Barrett not only directs but is also designer of the monastic set and apparently produces the show, too, as no producer is listed in the program. Elizabeth Tustian designed the 13th Century religious and peasant costumes, and Daniel Clawson the lighting.

The audience seemed to find the summer entertainment delightful, and all the actors garnered gales of laughter. The play runs through July 31. For further information, call (508) 358-4034.

"Incorruptible" (15 - 31 July)
Vokes Theatre Route, 20, WAYLAND MA
1(508) 358-4034

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