by Rita Charleston
At a decrepit medieval monastery in France, a traveling one-eyed con artist teaches the desperate monks an outrageous new way to pay old debts. In this dark comedy set in the Dark Ages, local playwright Michael Hollinger asks the question, “What happens when faith alone can’t pay the bills?” (Hollinger, a former Mt. Airy resident, now lives in Elkins Park.)
The play, titled “Incorruptible,” closes the season for the Arden Theatre Company, and runs through June 22 on the F. Otto Haas Stage at 40 n. 2nd St. in Old City. Throughout the Middle Ages, monasteries and other ecclesiastical institutions would sell relics, eager to become destinations for holy pilgrimage. Said director Matthew Decker, “It is rare to encounter a play that makes you laugh while simultaneously causing you to reflect on moral ambiguity, selflessness, divine intervention and the power of blind faith But this play does just that.”
Josh Carpenter, who resides in Mt. Airy and plays Brother Felix, agreed. ”This play is dramatic yet funny at the same time. So it’s important that all the actors are in sync with the timing of the dialogue because it’s very much an ensemble piece. There are lots of scenes with overlapping dialogue, and we have to listen to our audience to make sure we’re not stepping on the laughs and letting them enjoy the play with us.”
Carpenter, whose dad was in the Air Force, says he lived in many places, finally settling in New Mexico and then California. “When I was very young I wanted to be either a park ranger or a National Geographic photographer. But in 7th grade I took a drama class and immediately loved it and thought about making theater my career.”
And after graduating from high school, he headed to Chicago and Northwestern University to do just that. “I got my degree but moved to New York because I couldn’t handle the Chicago winters. But once I got to New York, I realized I had no idea how to actually get into the business. Within three months of moving there, I decided being an actor was too hard, so I decided to do my second favorite thing, and that was teaching English.”
Carpenter spent the next four or five years doing just that until he had one of those aha! moments when he realized he really did want to be an actor.
“I gave myself two years to make it and see where I was at the end of that time. I was lucky that I started to work pretty consistently right off the bat. I had to pay my dues and climb my way up the ladder, but when those two years were up, I was thrilled to be where I was and see where I was headed That was eight years ago, and here I am today.”
Carpenter, 35, has worked in many venues, but it was Quintessence Theatre in Mt. Airy that saw his talent and used it often in many of their productions. In fact, it was that theater company that eventually brought Carpenter to Mt. Airy, a place he said he settled in because of the proximity to Quintessence (in the old Sedgwick Theater building at 7133 Germantown Ave.) and because he loved the area and thought he could make a better living in Philly than in New York.
“And now I’m thrilled to be in this play,” said the Arden newcomer. “As with all the plays I do, the rehearsals are my favorite part. Lots of times you get to meet new people and figure out the play together. I find that period very exciting. Of course, getting to share the play and yourself with the audience is really the highlight, because until the audience arrives it really doesn’t matter. You’re playing to an empty room.”
Along the way, Carpenter appeared in a little indie nature film called “Wildlife.” The actor said it hasn’t been released yet but hopes it will be soon. And that experience, he volunteered, “has whet his appetite to do more, be it films or stage work.
“The fact that I like the nitty-gritty work of acting is why I keep doing it. I haven’t found any other work where the part of what is supposed to be drudgery is actually the most exciting part for me.”
For times and ticket information for “Incorruptible,” call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org.