More than 10 years ago, director Stephen C. Yednock Jr. saw “Incorruptible” for the first time. Since then, Yednock, who lives in Seabrook, has seen several adaptations of the play. And every time, he felt something was missing.
“They didn’t quite get it right,” Yednock said. “I wanted to set the record straight ... I wanted to have the chance to reinterpret it myself.”
Yednock got that chance when “Incorruptible” opened Sept. 21 at the Greenbelt Arts Center.
“Incorruptible,” written by Michael Hollinger, takes place in a monastery in Priseaux, France, in 1250 A.D.
It’s the story of a group of monks desperately trying to figure out a way to bring in money to continue their mission of helping the needy. The monastery’s patron saint, St. Foy, hasn’t offered up a miracle in more than 13 years.
The monastery seems doomed until the monks encounter a one-eyed minstrel who prompts a scheme — dig up the bones of their parishioners, and sell them to other churches as those of saints — to pay back their debts.
The medieval farce, often referred to as a “dark comedy about the dark ages,” delivers a rare combination of slapstick and serious commentary on history and religion.
It’s a delicate balance.
Judging by Yednock’s credentials, he may have the right stuff to make “Incorruptible” work.
For starters, Yednock is a playwright himself. He’s been penning original work, mostly plays designed for young audiences, for the past 20 years. Yednock said the parallels between his upbringing and Hollinger’s also help him interpret the script. Yednock grew up in Harrisburg, Pa., just 40 miles from Hollinger’s hometown of Lancaster.
“There’s something different about the people who come from central Pennsylvania,” said Yednock. “People from that part of the world have a good understanding of people ... in other big cities, you lose that.”
Perhaps most impressive is Yednock’s deep understanding of the play’s subject matter.
“I went off to become a priest,” Yednock said. “I studied for it ... I’ve been in the monastery, and I’ve been around monks.”
Although Yednock never officially entered the priesthood — instead working at the Goddard Space Flight Center for 40 years — he said his time at the monastery gave him the confidence to deliver “Incorruptible” in an accurate manner.
“My strong religious background enabled [me] to spot the real humor,” he said.
“I found that the natural humor of having been in a seminary ... you don’t think of priests as being funny people, but they are.”
Yednock was quick to add he is a little nervous about the reaction from his clergy-member friends who might come see the show.
“He’s definitely attempted to put his stamp on it,” said Fred Wells, who plays Brother Felix. “He’s given us a lot of background on things even your average Christian or Catholic wouldn’t know.”
Wells, who had never seen the show before, said he was intrigued by the script’s comical take on religion.
“I’ve always had an affinity for — or as my CCD teacher would say, ‘a problem with’ —finding the humor in religion,” Wells said.
“I just think it’s hilarious,” said Denis Latkowski, who plays Father Charles. “It’s traditional farce where you take something very serious and see the humorous parts.”
But it can be a fine line, he added.
Unlike other directors, Yednock said he is willing to toe that line and explore the more serious side of “Incorruptible.”
“[Other directors] play it straight as a comedy,” Yednock said. “There’s a lot more in this play. ... I saw it one time, and they ignored the seriousness. But I think there’s a very serious and a very nice story.”
Yednock said if he were to sum up the show in one word, it would be “faith.”
“It’s about men that have lost their faith and have regained it,” he said.
Even the story’s patron saint, St. Foy, means “saint of faith.”
For Wells, though, the message is a bit simpler.
“If you’re going to sell dead people, don’t get caught.”