Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Incorruptible"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Michael Hollinger
direction and set design by John Barrett

Brother Martin … Dan Kelly
Peasant Woman … Mikki Lipsey
Brother Olf … Andy Brown
Charles, the Abbott … David Berti
Brother Felix … Jeff Mahoney
Jack … David Wood
Marie, his wife of sorts … Aimee Doherty
Agatha, the Abbess of Bernay … Anne Damon

Black comedy is tricky to write because its nasty merriment is tricky to sustain, especially these days when the times are both tastefully correct and practically unshockable --- the black humorist may start out full of bile but often turns sentimental or sugary, opting instead for an upbeat ending or putting back together what he had spent the evening smashing apart (this flaw is more common among American writers than their European counterparts who have long found grim laughter in Man at his worst). Compared to Ben Elton’s uncompromising POPCORN, which received a stunning Zeitgeist production, several months ago, Michael Hollinger’s INCORRUPTIBLE, set in a 13th-century French monastery, is as safely daring as ARSENIC AND OLD LACE: the Abbott and his brother monks have fallen on hard times as the bones of Saint Foy, displayed on their altar, have not evoked a miracle for years, causing paying pilgrims to high-tail it off to a rival monastery, run by the Abbott’s sister, where a duplicate set of bones, bought from a one-eyed, grave-robbing minstrel, are causing the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the coffers to overflow; the monks cross paths with said minstrel and are soon robbing their own (off-stage) cemetery for saintly bones to sell to the gullible faithful (the plot is said to be based on historical fact). This may all sound rather scandalous --- and, thirty years ago, it may well have been --- but in order for Mr. Hollinger to stay true to his vision, INCORRUPTIBLE would had to have been a regular bloodbath; instead, true love and true faith triumph neatly, tidily, without a drop of red, anywhere. Its audience may go away feeling guilt-free after giggling at sacrilege and, indeed, Mr. Hollinger has come up with some naughty fun, but his target --- the Church --- remains as corrupt and impregnable as ever.

John Barrett has once again directed for the Vokes Players; like his handling of last year’s DEVIL’S DISCIPLE, his current production takes a while to warm up; when colors finally surface for Act Two’s slapstick they may not be sparking blacks, reds and purples but at least they swirl and divert --- and his kooky, well-contrasted ensemble go to great lengths --- and succeed --- to fill in the gaps with their own hilarity. David Wood as the minstrel and Aimee Doherty as his sort-of wife passed off as an ‘incorruptible’ may be little more than modern-day walk-ons --- Ms. Doherty is far more amusing when stuffed in a sack or spread on the altar than she is, elsewhere (how odd that she dances for the monks in Act One, then goes unrecognized for much of Act Two) --- but David Berti as the Abbott and Dan Kelly, Jeff Mahoney and Andy Brown as his brother monks are wonderful, separately and together, each playing his one-note character without grating repetition (if they were Disney dwarves, they would be Mournful, Greedy, Wistful and Dum-Dum); two supporting actresses --- Mikki Lipsey and Anne Damon --- give two different lessons on acting Black Comedy: Ms. Lipsey, who was memorable period dressing for the Nora’s production of VAN GOGH IN JAPAN, plays a stubborn, dirt-ignorant peasant as the traditional battle-axe without softening or sympathy; the type of virago born to have violent hands laid upon her (when Mr. Kelly pushed her out the door, I expected to hear her go crashing down the stairs, vaudeville-style). Ms. Damon, who I have never seen before, invades Act Two as a tiny terror of an Abbess and walks off with the show by playing her with ice in her veins and murder in her heart --- if a witch ever mated with a penguin, the results may be viewed on the Vokes stage for a few more weeks.

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

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