I missed Canterbury Tales day in AP English. I missed Canterbury Tales day in college, too. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that the closest I’ve come to Chaucer’s widely celebrated work is downloading it (for free!) on my Kindle, and feeling satisfied to include it my library titled “Classics…. To Read Later.”
For this reason, I had no specific expectations for Pointless Theatre’s adaptation of the work, other than entertainment and/or enlightenment. What I encountered, however, was a blazing reminder that there are innovative minds at work at small theatres such as Pointless Theatre Company, helming the kind of production that pumps life blood into the Washington D.C. theatre community.
In the late 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories told by Pilgrims on their way to the Canterbury Cathedral. Directed by Matt Reckeweg, Canterbury takes on topics from class, to religion, to monogamy, to pride, to sex (it’s important to note that this show is not for children with parents unprepared for lengthy and uncomfortable birds-and-the-bees-type explanations post-curtain), as well as the basic human interactions behind the communal art of storytelling.
The Host (Maya Jackson) gathers the strangers around her bar and engages them in a contest: he or she who tells the best tale wins a prize. The strangers, cut from very different cloths, are gruff and standoffish at first, but come together for a loud and hilarious night of story-telling. Alcohol is also involved. A great deal of alcohol.
The small Mead Theatre Lab, tucked away in the back of Flashpoint Gallery, is immediately alive upon entering (Art Director, Patti Kalil), a period tavern decorated with vibrant artwork on the walls and statues lining the stage (where does one find a suit of armor these days, I’d much like to know). Prior to the show, Niall Owen Mccusker and Michael Winch fill the space with music and continue to play an integral role in each of the evening’s pieces.
The Knight (Matthew Sparacino), heads off the event with an ethical and romantic account of two prisoners in love with the same woman. The Miller follows (Lex Davis) with a raunchy tale of a local hottie and her cuckold, to which the Reeve (Scott Whalen) responds with his tale of bed-hopping and revenge.
The first act’s finale is the Pardoner’s tale of Death (Noah Langer), a beautifully sculpted and mesmerizingly eerie piece, which first hypnotizes and then irritates the other tale-tellers. The Nun (Rachel Menyuk) takes issue with this, and pushes back with the proud tale of the rooster and the fox. The charmingly bourgeois Merchant (Frank Cervarich) reflects on the blind and punishing nature of love, and the Wife of Bath (Lee Gerstenhaber) answers with a particularly timely piece of women’s burdens and women’s rights.
Though based on Chaucer’s tale, writers Natalie Piegari, Gabriella Yacyk, Sarah E. Wilby, Mark Halpern, John Hamilton, Brendan Edward Keene, Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat have given it a hilarious anachronistic tone without compromising time or place (think the cast of Spring Awakening launching from their wooden school desks to sing “Bitch of Living.”) Fresh and inventive for source material older than Gutenberg’s printing press.
Closes March 9, 2013
916 G St NW
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Wednesdays thru Saturdays
This piece is packed to the ceiling with story. There is so much rich story-telling afloat, it’s easy to get lost in the show of it and miss a moral or two (there are many).
Canterbury is fast-paced, frenzied, and joyful, embodying the reason theatre as an art form spoke to me as a young person. It’s inspired and energetic, with seemingly limitless imagination and big plans for the future. The sum of the production’s parts is more than just a high-quality show; it’s excitement. It’s everything I hope for when sitting in a darkened theatre before the curtain rises, and so rarely find.
Canterbury . Adapted from the stories by Geoffrey Chaucer by Natalie Piegari, Gabriella Yacyk, Sarah E. Wilby, Mark Halpern, John Hamilton, Brendan Edward Keene, Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat. Directed By Matt Reckeweg . Adapting Dramaturg Alex Leidy . Produced by Pointless Theatre . Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh