PHOTO: The cast of Evergreen Theatre’s production of “Incorruptible” is, from left, Alex M. Sabin, Sarah Doyle, Kristi Rolbiecki, Michael Troyer, Justin Gulmire, Dawn M. Byrne, John Kindt and Brian T. Stevens. Evergreen Theatre photo

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – “Incorruptible: A Dark Comedy About the Dark Ages” flips between satire and commentary, fact and fiction, irreverence and reverence and Monty Python and wise guy in the back of the class. Evergreen Theatre of the greater Green Bay area is taking on the Michael Hollinger play in five more performances through May 9 in the Webb Theatre of St. Norbert College. Info: tickets.snc.edu.

Requisite is knowledge of the interior story of Roman Catholicism of the 1200s, when the play is set. Evergreen Theatre’s printed program provides some background in items listed as “fun facts.” The word “incorruptible” in the play’s title has a meaning from Roman Catholicism.

The humor is… hmmm. Here’s a sampler by way of a major character: Jack is a traveling minstrel, singing songs and doing feats of skill, like juggling. He has one eye due to a juggling mishap with knives. Juggling with one eye – think about it. Eventually in the story, Jack is called upon to do a body count. There is one body left for him to count. Jack dawdles because he is buying time as a cover-up. He is questioned – How long can it take for him to count one body? Jack begs off by saying he has only one eye, so counting takes him twice as long.

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Creative: Playwright – Michael Hollinger; director – Teresa Aportela Sergott; set designer – Hannah Conger; set dresser – Dawn Barron; costume designer – Judy Patefield; lighting designer – Jack Rhyner; sound designer – Michael O’Callaghan.

Cast: Charles – Michael Troyer; Martin – John Kindt; Olf – Brian T. Stevens; Felix – Justin Gulmire; Peasant Woman – Dawn M. Byrne; Jack – Alex M. Sabin; Marie – Sarah Doyle; Agatha – Kristi Rolbiecki.

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To open, Evergreen Theatre does an inventive take on pre-performance announcements. This one is done as a priest-like chant in a Roman Catholic service, with to ngue-in-cheek bits about cell phones and such. Included from the service is the sung-spoken line, “Let us pray to the Lord,” with the opportunity for the audience to respond in the manner of a congregation, “Hear our prayer.”

Director Teresa Aportela Sergott and the cast dutifully follow the playwright’s few-holds-barred lead and plunge into a story that takes place in a monastery struggling through hard, hard times. The players generally stay true to their characters, each of which has a laundry list of foibles – all the better to have juicy stuff to enact.

Jack is the driver of this tale, and Alex M. Sabin plays him with flair with the tongue, the twist of the neck and the aura of a nimble-minded rogue whose skepticism comes a cropper in the end 2½ hours down Hollinger’s bumpy, body-strewn road.

Again a body reference. Here’s why: The play starts with a skeleton on an altar. Other skeleton parts eventually become part of the story. Early in the play, the body of a murdered man – we are told a money counter, a Jew – is brought to the monastery and becomes woven into Hollinger’s brand of humor. At one point, the sanctuary of the monastery houses four bodies and assorted bags of skeleton parts. You see, the clerics of this monastery are selling the parts to other churches and passing them off as holy remnants of saints for the faithful to pray to in hopes of miracles. Sometimes bagged bodies in the play are tossed from one spot to another as one would lift and fling a 200-pound sack of, say, potatoes.

Michael Troyer portrays the abbot, Charles, torn between what he believes and knows is right and temptations of “success” and “respect.” In a shouty way, John Kindt portrays the monk Martin, who calculates and connives “success” and “respect” for the monastery in such a way as to be blameless for his (mis)deeds. Brian T. Stevens portrays the monk Olf, probably so named because of its close approximation to “oaf,” meaning to Hollinger a comical dullard. Justin Gulmire portrays the monk Felix, who wrestles with feeling out of place in the order. Sarah Doyle portrays Marie, Jack’s almost-wife, whose earthiness turns Hollinger-ironic as Marie assumes the position of the title figure. Dawn M. Byrne portrays the Peasant Woman, who is Marie’s mother and representative (Hollinger-comically) of the faithful masses. Late in the play, Kristi Rolbiecki swoops in like a lightning bolt to portray Agatha, abbess of a rival church and Martin’s pain-in-the-neck sister/foil. This is quite a rogue’s gallery for Jack/Sabin. There’s a lot of byplay as the story moves (slogs for a time in the second act) along through places folks seldom dream of going.

The costuming has good touches. Jack’s minstrel outfit has colorful zing. The monks’ habits, along with changing with circumstance, tell a little tale: While the other monks’ habits are kempt, Olf’s is shabby, thus defining him as oafish.

The play has a big payoff in the end. Getting there is… harrumph. Enough said.  

THE VENUE: The 184-seat Neil and Mary Webb Memorial Theatre is the smaller of two theaters in St. Norbert College’s Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts. The Webb stage is one-of-a-kind thrust stage, meaning it “thrusts” into the audience space. A traditional proscenium stage has a flat front and usually has curtains. A trust stage rarely uses curtains. People in front rows can practically reach out and touch performers when the performers are on the stage lip. Any seat in the theater is close to the action.

THE PEOPLE: Neil and Mary Webb were husband and wife. Neil Webb was president of St. Norbert College from 1973 to 1983. He earlier headed the St. Norbert psychology department. He left academics for a while before becoming president of Dominican College in California. In December 1987, Neil and Mary Webb died in an airplane crash in California in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled employee. That was shortly before the Hall of Fine Arts was to be remodeled with a small theater in the plans. Neil Webb had a lot of friends in the community and had the reputation, so his name was used to raise funds for the theater.

Because I review a broad range of performances, professional and amateur, and because of the tremendous range of production budgets, I have decided to forego putting star ratings on performances. You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air segments on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.