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THEATER REVIEW: OnStage Playhouse goes for the laughs with “Incorruptible”

Eons ago in history class I read about corrupt clerics selling indulgences. I was reminded of that while watching Michael Hollinger’s medieval comedy (for lack of a better term) “Incorruptible,” playing through July 21 at OnStage Playhouse.

“Incorruptible” is a send-up of what I’ll call the miracle traffic (Catholic version). Pilgrims visit certain holy places where bodies (or body parts) of saints are enshrined in order to ask a favor – or even a miracle – of those saintly parts.

The pilgrim traffic to St. Foy monastery in 13th-century France has dwindled – to the extent that not just the monks’ good works (helping the poor) but even the survival of the monastery are in jeopardy. Their saint hasn’t performed a certifiable miracle in a dozen years and they’re forced to impose a penny-a-prayer fee on locals with no likelihood of results.

Worse, the pilgrim traffic has shifted to a convent in nearby Bernay.

Things aren’t just bad but desperate, notes short-tempered Brother Martin (Dave Hibler). Abbot Charles (Frank Remiatte) concurs, but insists that “we shouldn’t take it out on the poor.”

“Well, who can we take it out on?” Martin deadpans.

The answer to their prayers (or perhaps the slippery road to eternal damnation) arrives in the form of wandering minstrel Jack (James M. McCullock), who lets slip that he sold the “bones of St. Foy” (exhumed from a nearby graveyard) to the Bernay convent now raking it in from the miracle traffic.

Brother Martin sees the writing on the wall. He threatens Jack with exposure, and St. Foy is soon doing its own brisk business in the selling of “sacred” body parts to holy sites around Christendom, courtesy of Jack and the monastery’s graveyard.

Martin even gets rambunctious enough to let it be known that St. Foy has an “incorruptible” (a saint who has not decomposed – the rarest of all relics), prompting the Pope to announce a forthcoming visit. (They have no such thing.)

Uh-oh.

It’s a funny premise that the male characters (including McCullock’s opportunist Jack (with a swell eyepatch), Julio Jacobo’s slightly dim Brother Olf and Rob Conway’s Brother Felix) play straight (or, in Hibler’s case, deadpan), heightening the humor.

But the piece as a whole might have worked better were it not for the wild variations in tone brought about by subplots featuring acting styles that don’t mesh.

There’s a goofy strand involving Jack’s girlfriend Marie (the fine Lena Jones), the more worldly Felix and Marie’s mother (overacted by Michele Guisti). Mom just wishes Marie had married that nice Pierre before he died, but it turns out that Felix and Marie have a bit of history themselves.

Yet another subplot involves Charles’ dragon of a sister named Agatha (also a Sister, if you catch my drift) – grossly overplayed by Holly Stephenson.

I hasten to add that the audience loved these portrayals.

“Incorruptible” isn’t a great comedy, but it’s fun – at least for a while.

The details

“Incorruptible” plays through July 21 at OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Ave., Chula Vista.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-422-7787 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.