Not so "Incorruptible"

Holy vows don’t keep monks and nuns in Little Theatre's latest from behaving badly

Special to The TribuneSeptember 12, 2013 

From left, John Geever, Tabatha Skanes, Anita Schwaber and Tom Ammon in "Incorruptible."

JAMIE FOSTER

"Incorruptible, a Dark Comedy about the Dark Ages” is a funny, irreverent take on the Catholic Church in the 1200s. With a well- chosen cast, it’s a compelling story that unfolds as the characters develop and the comedy builds.

The play by Michael Hollinger is set in a mona-stery in France, where the monks have the skeleton of Saint Foy, a saint who hasn’t worked a miracle in 13 years. There are no pilgrims bringing offerings to pray before the skeleton. The pantry is empty, and the monks are considering eating their donkeys. Their ideals appear to be high, but their overhead is higher.

Felix, a young monk, has been sent to plead with the pope to visit the monastery in hopes of getting it some attention. He comes back with a story that Saint Foy’s identity has been stolen by a neighboring monastery and the fake relic is working miracles. The person who brought them the faux “saint” was a one-eyed minstrel. To make a long story short, the minstrel is invited to perform for the beleaguered monks, who blackmail him into their service.

The title of the play has a double meaning. In the Catholic vocabulary an “incorruptible” is a deceased holy person whose body does not decompose. And in this story, the seemingly incorruptible monks turn out to be corruptible, indeed, as they undertake (that’s a pun) a macabre project that is sacrilegious and profane. In the second act, the monastery has a new stained glass window, and the monks’ sackcloth robes have been replaced with silk.

Director Jill Turnbow, who has her own knack for comedy, has selected a stellar cast. Tom Ammon plays Martin, a monk who starts out as strict and plays by the rules, claiming to be a man of peace and quoting scriptures, but turns out to be the most corruptible of all. He offers the ultimate rationalization for their gruesome plot and his own greediness — that the proceeds go to feed the hungry and help the poor. Ammon is good as his character devolves.

The abbot, head of the monastery, is played well by John Geever as a rather weak man, a reluctant participant in what is going on, but he is drawn into it, especially when he knows that the abbess in the competing nunnery is his sister, with whom he has a long-term family feud.

Clayton Greiman is Felix, the young monk who is horrified by the escalating escapade. He creates a sympathetic personality, with great body language and expressions.

Each of the monks has a unique character, and Matthew Hansen is the funniest as Olf, a bumbling fellow who never quite understands what’s going on.

Bob Peterson is Jack, the minstrel, who is the catalyst and the victim at the same time. He is excellent as he deals with the monks and with his girlfriend, Marie, and the feisty peasant woman who is her mother. Tabatha Skanes plays Marie, who turns out to be the most incorruptible of all. Rosh Wright is terrific as her mother, who takes no guff from anyone, and explains that her daughter “has been known to ease the burden of the celibate on occasion.”

Anita Schwaber is a kick as Agatha, the blustery, intimidating nun from hell, who invades the monastery and confronts her brother.

This is a play that could have been acted on the Monty Python-like verge of slapstick, but director Turnbow has wisely chosen to have her actors act with a straight face (most of the time), keeping things surprising and making it even funnier.

IF YOU GO

"Incorruptible"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Sept. 29
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St.
$15 to $25
786-2440 or slolittletheatre.org

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