When times get tough you have to keep stretching the flour, or in this case the miracles. And remember, that miracles make saints and not the other way around. Unless of course you’re The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre trying to make saints into miracles with their production of Michael Hollinger’s Incorruptible. Directed by Sherrionne Brown, this sinfully wicked dark comedy about the dark ages is sure to tickle your funny bone. Or your femur. Or your toe. Or whatever bone you happen to have lying around. When the bones of St. Foy give out at the monastery in Priseuax some desperate monks will do whatever it takes to keep the Pope on schedule to arrive and bless their parish. Side-splitting moments of farcical humor bring laughter so full it just might wake the dead. Incorruptible is not a comedy you’ll want to miss!
Doubling up as the show’s Set Designer and Co-Costumer, Director Sherrionne Brown brings the epitome of dank and dreary 13th century France to life as vividly as can be managed for the dark ages. Creating her signature atmospheric scenic work, Brown transforms the postage stamp stage-in-the-square into a derelict but humble monastery, infusing the essence of the lost catacombs of France into her work. From the cracked stone floor to the textured columns, Brown brings the energy of the pious into her creation, giving the monks someplace to feel at home. Brown’s attention to detail with the blending of earth tones in her wall painting and the intricate design of the stained glass window (not revealed until later) adds a professional flare to the overall design work.
Co-Costuming with resident Costume Designer Laura Nicholson, Brown gets a lively contrast going between the dowdy and monochromatic monks’ robes (designed by Nicholson) and the sprightly colorful threads adorning the minstrel act. All of the outfits pay homage to their historical roots, Brown’s dress for Marie being particularly delicate in both its coloring and its fashion.
Brown’s extensive knowledge of the space and how to properly execute farcical comedy in a show without doors culminates in a flawless production of high hilarity balanced with touching moments of emotional veracity. Constructing an intimate comedy that reads well for both truth and hilarity without feeling trite or false is the mark of an exceptional director; Brown’s work with this production is nothing short of exceptional. Her decision to have the bones of the failed saint become a humorous gag throughout the show is comic genius. Watch as Brother Felix, Brother Martin, even the Abbot find various humorous uses for the bones— mostly as backscratchers; just another showcase of Brown’s attention to nuance and detail in her work.
Every character has their place and has crafted a unique balance in the grand scheme of the production. Peasant Woman (Janice Whelan) is meddlesome at the best of times when it comes to fixing the scene. Whelan brings a sassy flare to cameo character, serving saucy lip to all the monks. Engaging with Brother Martin in a ferocious showdown of willpower and stubbornness, Whelan’s true colors light up like Roman Candles as she spars and bucks heads with the equally ornery clergy.
Marie (Ilana Hirschhorn) is a burgeoning flower by comparison, but her angelic looks are merely a façade for her own volatile temper. Like mother like daughter, Hirschhorn’s characterization of the minstrel girl comes with just as much cheeky prowess as Whelan’s peasant woman. Her temper flares in moments of deep conflict with Jack. A hilarious scene of silent mime-battle ensues between the pair; one of the most engaging moments in the production.
Brother Olf (Torberg M. Tonnessen) radiates like the midday sun at midnight. Tonnessen takes on the task of playing the rather simplistic monk in all senses of the word. Perfecting his confusion when he speaks and asks questions some of the funniest one-liners tumble forth accidentally from his mouth. The depth of stupidity to which Tonnessen imbues his character layers on the hilarity that ensues, especially during moments like the scene with the candles.
The Abbot Charles (Richard Peck) is a conundrum of a character. Appearing at first to be very mild mannered and bordering on the description of Zen, Peck creates a brilliant dichotomy within his character’s existence; mellow and humble against furious raging temper. His moments of angered outburst are few and far between but when he does blast them out— be it upon Jack the Minstrel or Sister Agatha— they are the holy terror incarnate; a vengeful God channeled through his rage.
Another equally impressive character dichotomy can be found in Brother Felix (Sean Dynan). His opening scene has Dynan all but crashing through the walls of the monastery in a spastic, frantic panic. Dynan expresses his hysterics in a rich and humorous manner as he laments all he has come to see and experience in Bernay. Balancing out the spastic side of his character with a much more curious approach, Dynan’s moments of emotional expression feel raw, creating a vulnerability in his character, particularly when desperately questioning his own faith.
Scene stealer Joan Crooks, who only appears in the final scenes as Sister Agatha from the “second-rate convent run by a bunch of backwoods nuns,” is an inferno of fury on wheel. Storming the monastery by intimidating force she’s a blast of brimstone belching out nastiness at everyone in her general trajectory. An uproarious scream, all eyes are on Crooks as she all but embodies an evil presence in the holy space. Wicked, sharp, and with impeccable line delivery, Crooks has all eyes on her from the moment she swoops in; a fierce and hilarious characterization showing the world that even the smallest of roles can be made enormous when handed to the right actor.
Dueling for master of the show are Brother Martin (Roy Hammond) and Jack the Minstrel (Phil Gallagher). To say which is funnier or who gave the better performance would be like trying to determine which came first the chicken or the egg; a complete and utter impossibility. Gallagher adapts a brilliant street-savvy sound of a traveling British minstrel, his comic delivery earning laugh after laugh as he flounces about relying as heavily on his physical humors as he does on his high end wit. Gallagher also understands the nuances of farce, particularly in his silent scenes with Marie, and works them into flawless moments of hilarity.
Hammond creates a character in Brother Martin that is sarcastic, biting, and brilliant. Achieving flamboyance and mania all in one go it is physically exhausting to watch the perpetual motion of his character. Hammond excites himself so thoroughly on stage that his character becomes winded, only added to the humor that is experience in watching him carry on. His comic delivery is precise, particularly with his scathing sarcastic remarks, and he often steals scenes when he becomes awash in euphoric excitement. Taking to rolling on the floor there is no level of humor that Hammond hasn’t explored in his performance; a comic God if you will.
Things are decaying quickly at Spotlighters theatre with this group of crazies hanging about, you’ll want to be sure and get your tickets before everything falls apart and there are no miracles left!
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.
Incorruptible plays through May 18, 2014 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.