Review: ‘Incorruptible’ and in stitches

 in Arden Theatre Company’s production of

in Arden Theatre Company’s production of "Incorruptible," from left: Michael Doherty, Alex Keiper, Sam Sherburne, Ian Merrill Peakes, Mary Martello and Paul L. Nolan. (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

What’s a poor believer to do? The abbey is falling apart. No one in the village seems able to contribute even a penny for prayer.

The relics of the monastery’s revered saint haven’t spurred a miracle in years. Its brothers of charity have nothing for the poor. Or for themselves.

 

Time to bring in the Pope.

Michael Hollinger’s daft and delicious “Incorruptible,” playing out with the perfect cast at Arden Theatre Company, is set around 1250 A.D., but its premise is a rule of thumb today: If you want a long run, get a headliner, and if you get a headliner make sure you’re using the A-list.

Here, that’s clearly the Pope. Either Brother Felix shows up at little French abbey with the Pope or these guys are out of the charity business. But wait! The Pope is more interested in a rival monastery some villages away and, yikes, that place is still working miracles. Now what?

Well, it’s time to go into the business of – how can I put this without ruining the plot? – sinning. That’s an all-around catch-phrase for what happens with these brothers who are, as one character says, “as corrupt as the merchant class” and with an inspiration that’s not exactly divine. Another character explains it: “Their ideals are high. It’s just that their overhead’s higher.”

“Incorruptible” is a rollicking good time. The Arden first produced Hollinger’s play 18 years ago – it was the first full-length work the company staged by the Philadelphia-based playwright. Over the years, Arden has produced six more; all during that time, the Arden had no playwright-in-residence position, so Hollinger had it by default.

Hollinger has had an exciting spring – his newest play, “Hope and Gravity,” opened in a world premiere at City Theatre Company in Pittsburgh and toward the end of that run, “Incorruptible” opened in the Arden’s remount. Arden will premiere his next new work, yet untitled, next season.

“Incorruptible” is both a plot-driven and laugh-driven look at miracles and faith – and also what we base our faith on. Matthew Decker directs it as if it were a farce, both in the timing and character interpretation, and the cast runs nicely with him to bring that feeling to the production. Michael Doherty and Alex Keiper are the young villagers duped into the schemes of these holy brothers, all with the willing encouragement of Mary Martello as a peasant. Ian Merill Peakes and Paul L. Nolan are the so-called adult supervision in this abbey. Josh Carpenter and San Sherburne are the gullible novices, and Marcia Saunders is the menacing rival abbess down the road.

James Kronzer’s monastery set and Lauren Perigard’s costumes take us to this aberrant abbey, where the characters lead themselves straight into … well, all I can say is, let us pray.

_“Incorruptible” runs through June 22 at Arden Theatre Company, Second Street north of Market. 215-922-1122 or www.ardentheatre.org.

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