Photo by Adam Baudoux
Review by Lisa Purchase Kelly

God helps those who help themselves, and the monks in SVSU's production of Michael Hollinger's Incorruptible certainly prove the proverb. In a dizzying spiral of slapstick and moral ambiguity, they help themselves out of the frying pan and right into the fire. In this mad-cap monastic version of Waiting for Godot, the monastery is on the brink of total failure, and there are conflicting opinions on what must done to ensure and hasten the arrival of the visitor who will surely save them from their plight. The monks operate on faith, but faith means various things to various people, from the overly practical and worldly Brother Martin (played by Dakotah Myers) to the unsure abbot Father Charles (played by Rustin Myers) to the pious but potty-mouthed peasant woman (played by Cassidy Morey) who keeps trying to pimp out her daughter (played by Samantha White). Child-like Brother Olf (played by David Ryan) and the unflinchingly faithful Brother Felix (played by Cameron Thorp) lend their innocent queries to the chaos as things go from bad to worse. When they get their hands on the one-eyed minstrel (played by David Milka) who has robbed them of their one treasure (and diverted their anticipated visitor), the monks turn positively menacing.

The shifty minstrel, with his snappy patter and questionable juggling skills, is suddenly shanghaied into the monastic life, and as reluctant Brother Norbert he sneaks in semi-conjugal visits while perennially losing an ongoing game of Bible-trivia. And in an increasingly alarming series of rationalizations and radical leaps of reason, the monastery begins a booming trade in wholesale saints. But the monks keep digging themselves in deeper (both literally and figuratively), and through the frantic slapstick emerges some real substance: how do you marry faith and reason? Piousness and practicality? How do you save your skin without losing your soul?

The answers begin to come through when a touching story creeps in and takes center stage—a moment of anti-comic relief of sorts, when the tightly-wound spring of chaos momentarily unwinds and the frantic pace takes a break from itself. Brother Felix sweetly lends a little tragedy to the proceedings. Love, it appears, is the answer, and true faith follows in its wake. From there the rest of the dominoes fall improbably into place, leading all on the most circuitous route to salvation. And that salvation comes of its own accord, regardless of whether the long-awaited guest ever arrives Directed by SVSU Theatre Professor David Rzeszutek, the ensemble cast a gives nuanced portrayal of their seemingly simple characters. The capable crop of freshmen give especially impressive performances—Dakotah Myers' self-assured Brother Martin is a perfect counterpoint to the wavering abbott; Cassidy Morey's peasant woman manages to be somehow disgusting and endearing at the same time; and Mykaela Hopps' fiendish Abbess Agatha throws an impressively entertaining temper-tantrum that stops just short of peeing her pants on stage.

From the flickering sconces and rough-hewn masonry of the monastery to the Gregorian chants quietly wafting through the air, the commitment to style is evident from the minute the audience filters into the theatre. And the monks up the ante on commitment as soon as they hit the stage … four actors are walking around campus this week with fourteenth-century monk haircuts! That means bowl-haircuts shaved in the middle to varying degrees of monk's-ring baldness. With Technical Director Jerry Dennis' beautiful set, the monks' robes and some appropriately grubby peasant garb by costumer Elise Shannon, some excellent effects by lighting designer Eric Johnson, and those radical haircuts, the show presents a convincing and thoroughly themed visual show.

From start to finish this "light comedy for the Dark Ages" shines at every level. Catch its debut performance in this region at SVSU this weekend … it's money and time well-spent, especially at this price.The show runs Wednesday November 16th through Sunday November 20th. Performances are 7:30pm Wednesday through Saturday, and a performance at 3:00pm on Sunday. Tickets are $10 ($7 for Students and Senior Citizens). To order tickets or for further information contact the SVSU Box Office at (989) 964-4261.

© Lisa Purchase Kelly, 2011