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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shakespeare Tavern goes medieval on your ass with silly Canterbury Tales

click to enlarge FLYING CHAUCERS: Rivka Levin (from left), Mary Russell, Nicholas Faircloth, Amee Vyas, Drew Reeves, Mike Niedzwiecki, Laura Cole and Matt Felten
  • FLYING CHAUCERS: Rivka Levin (from left), Mary Russell, Nicholas Faircloth, Amee Vyas, Drew Reeves, Mike Niedzwiecki, Laura Cole and Matt Felten

"The Miller’s Tale,” one of the most scandalous episodes of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, culminates with adultery, flatulence, and a red-hot poker’s intrusion in the least welcome place imaginable. Everyone appreciates a good joke, but the bawdy humor isn’t what elevates The Canterbury Tales to the level of literature. In addition to Chaucer’s narrative gifts and insight into human nature, his command of Middle English not only made The Canterbury Tales a cornerstone of the canon, but arguably advanced the language itself.

John Stephens’ adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, now playing at the Shakespeare Tavern, features the essential events of six tales and their prologues, updated with accessible, sing-songy rhymed verse and modern details. Here, Chaucer’s tale-swapping pilgrims become tourists riding a bus to Canterbury. The Canterbury Tales’ irreverent approach to a classic perfectly suits the Tavern’s audience, who clearly appreciates rowdy comedy and literary references. Purists may wish for fewer puppets and better accents, but can still find a few chuckles.

Stephens originally adapted The Canterbury Tales for Atlanta’s Theatre Gael, which staged a sharper but equally silly production in the late 1990s. Stephens’ version renders “The Miller’s Tale” as an overheated Italian melodrama, complete with a nod to The Godfather and a lovelorn monk (Matt Felten) crooning “That’s Amore” and “Volare.” “The Reeve’s Tale” becomes a spaghetti western, complete with a preposterous shoot-out. Tales from the Wife of Bath and the Franklin feature knights and their ladies, fitting the Tavern’s Renaissance Fair vibe. (The weekend I attended, Tavern stalwart Laura Cole was out of the country and replaced by Maureen Yasko, who made for a sexy, if overly young, Wife of Bath.)

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(Photo Courtesy Shakespeare Tavern)

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