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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

COMPANY : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The New American Shakespeare Tavern [WEBSITE]
ID# 3309

SHOWING : March 05, 2009 - March 29, 2009



Join us for a medieval romp through boisterous and bawdy olde England. Drawing on the Celtic British influences of Geoffrey Chaucer's writing, this hilarious adaptation reintroduces the tales in forms ranging from medical soap opera to spaghetti Western!

Director John Stephens
Player Laura Cole
Player Nicholas Faircloth
Player Matt Felten
Player Rivka Levin
Player Mike Niedzwiecki
Player Drew Reeves
Player Mary Russell
Player Amee Vyas
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


Canterbury Tales is a bawdy, irreverent crowd-pleaser
by Lady Mac
Monday, January 11, 2010
The Shakespeare Tavern has brought back its popular Chaucer adaptation that delighted audiences last year — with one vignette from last season dropped and two new ones added. If — after you have heard and taken seriously the warning that this is not a show for the easily offended (although nothing in it is anything worse than you’d see on network television) — you think you’d like to join the adventure … get on the bus!

The six tales develop as a group of pilgrims on a “tour bus” share stories to amuse, skewer or outdo their fellow passengers. The pilgrims act as storytellers as well as characters in the stories, with assistance from numerous costume changes and several puppets that almost become a second cast in themselves (particularly Chaucer and, of course, the bus).

Like a good episode of “Saturday Night Live,” this incarnation of “The Canterbury Tales” contains enough brilliant and hilarious moments and strong “skits” to more than cover the slower parts or weaker stories. And the cast is so strong and interacts so well that you’ll be willing to excuse anything that may seem to go too far or cause you to scratch your head a little.

Unfortunately, the tale that I liked least when I saw this production last year remains the opening tale this year. “The Miller’s Tale” feels too long and is the most distasteful of the tales — as well as the most potentially offensive (primarily to Catholics and Italians … and maybe carpenters) — though it does have a few shining bits, including an entertaining, short riff on “The Godfather.”

On the other hand, fortunately, the strongest and best of the tales from last year also returns. “The Pardoner’s Tale,” which wraps up the first act on a very high note, is one of the tales with a clear moral to the story — appropriately (in this Catholicism-heavy context) reflecting one of the seven deadly sins (greed — other tales touch on pride and lust). Anyone who enjoys a story with a good twist will love this one. It’s also got some of the best language and social commentary, as the pardoner begins the story with an explanation of how guilt-ridden people are easily duped into falling for his religious scams. (“They always have — and they always will.”)

Of the two new tales this year, “The Franklin’s Tale” is a real surprise — very sweet and heartfelt. The beautiful love story almost feels a little out of place amid the over-the-top ridiculousness of some of the other tales and the don’t-take-this-too-seriously goofiness and slapstick. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is the only one that comes close to it in tone. Who knew the brow-beaten American tourist was such a romantic?

As for “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” … Perhaps the best explanation comes at the end, when a clearly intoxicated nun telling the story is reveling with Chaucer. At any rate, the dance sequence with Mike Niedzwiecki as the very colorful rooster and Rivka Levin as his soulmate chicken is absolutely hilarious and hysterically choreographed. Levin’s chicken outfit is stunning — perhaps the sexiest bird outfit ever — and the new, wing-flapping chicken puppets are wonderful. The tale goes all over the map, with a very odd detour regarding two men who cannot find hotel rooms and run into bad dreams and criminals, but the image of the dancing fowl will be what stays with you!

At the performance I saw, Maureen Yasko was handling all the roles played by Laura Cole and was doing an admirable job of filling Cole’s shoes (tall order, considering Cole’s status as a legend at the Tavern). She was a very capable fill-in and another testament to the Tavern’s increasing reputation for grooming and introducing new talent. In fact, most of this cast are graduates of the Tavern’s apprentice program.

Finally, there are some clever references in the play to remind you of “whose house you’re in,” including a cameo by the Bard himself (in two-dimensional form).

If you’re up for — as the playbill describes it — “a tour on the wacky side: puppets, hijinks and bawdy jokes included,” don’t miss this trip!

Bawdy and Soul
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
When March with all its Snowy Blossoms
Comes to Atlanta with fresh-squashed ‘possums,
Then long we all to trek downtown
To see a play of some renown.

Instead of some old Bardic chestnut
We get instead this older spicenut --
It’s Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic tales,
Of ribald women, rutting males.

All finely told with bawdy wit,
Not too afraid to wallow in {sewage}.
We see the Pardoner and the Nun,
We see the Reeve and Miller pun.

A lot of modern sharp allusions
Gild these old lower class delusions.
And all the Taverns’ favorite folks
Spout doggerel verse while we drink cokes. *

Last month I harshly took to task
Ms. Russell’s Juliet, but now I ask,
Can there be better comediennes
To assay Shakespeare’s sassy femmes?

I loved her crass and Yankee honey,
Her hacking crone is gross and funny.
She even plays an infant child
With coos and handguns going wild.

And Laura Cole, all smoky smirks,
The Wife of Bath bestows with quirks.
Matt Felton’s Pardoner in weasley guise
Here tells his story all irony-wise.

Mike Niedzwiecki’s Miller’s a Hoot,
As is Ms. Vyas’ Nun, to boot.
I liked as well Drew Reeves’s Reeve,
With Rivka’s Hostess, I have no Peeve.

To be complete, I have to say
That Nicholas Faircloth adds to the play
By playing the Merchant, Rube Alain,
And randy Nicholas, the Swain.

So if I think this cast a prize,
What do I have to criticize?
I guess it’s just another case
Of weaknesses in script and pace.

The stories seemed too much the same
With rampant similarity and aim.
Adultery and foolishness both meet
Ironic justice quick and sweet.

And since the characters are so shallow,
The morals of their tales grow callow.
And Chaucer’s lovely flowing verse
Is cheapened by these couplets terse.

Perhaps a better staging choice
Would be to let him have his voice,
Reduce the tales to three or two
And let the bawdiness ensue.

But still and all, I laughed a lot.
The stories have ironic plot.
The story of the Reeve is put
Into the West, clichés afoot!

The puppetry is oft inspired
With silliness, it’s never tired.
(And any show with burning probes
Cannot but help to please my lobes.) *

So hie thee all, it’s best you hurry
And see these Tales of Canterbury!

-- Brad Rudy (

(*) You want doggerel? I’ve got doggerel! Arf!

Medieval mavericks make merry in Canterbury
by OctoberSundance
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
A departure from Original Practice, no matter how brief, probably involved much debate and handwringing by the members of the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, but they ultimately decided to perform director John Stephens’ modernized adaptation of "The Canterbury Tales" this month. With sight gags galore, occasional instances of cheap humor, and sound effects ranging from a car engine to squeaking bedsprings, does the production still manage to please the typical Tavern audience? Well, thanks to the timelessness of Chaucer’s tales, the clever staging, and the near-perfect cast of eight ASC regulars, the short answer is – yes. This is a trip that you will definitely want to take.

So come climb aboard the Canterbury Tours bus and be greeted by your ever-cheerful guide (Rivka Levin). Your fellow passengers include a sultry five-time wife (Laura Cole), a silent young salesman (Matt Felten), a hard-boozing nun (Amee Vyas), an obnoxious Texan (Mary Russell) accompanied by her long-suffering husband (Nicholas Faircloth), and a pair of boisterous drunks (Mike Niedzwiecki and Drew Reeves) who refuse to stay in their seats. The journey is long but hardly lacking in entertainment, as everybody onboard has a story to tell.

Everybody also has ample opportunity to shine and, as a result, the cast does not seem to have the so-called weak link who would typically drag such a show through the mud. Cole covers miles of ground with her performances, from the Wife of Bath to an Italian “town tricycle” (several men get a ride) to Death herself, playing checkers with the versatile and always-funny Felten. Niedzwiecki, who usually seems to play the straight man, proves that he also has a knack for comedy; he, Felten and Faircloth (the king of goofy faces) make one heck of a trio. It’s so good to see Ms. Vyas back on the Tavern stage, a sentiment with which most of the men in the audience agree after seeing her in that Indian costume and Catholic schoolgirl uniform. From the house speech to the grand finale, Reeves’ antics leave everybody in stitches, and Levin gets the chance to show off not only her comedic side, but also her harp-playing skills and lovely singing voice. (Early in the show, she also does a Don Corleone impression that’s hilariously accurate.)

After her uninspired performance in "Romeo and Juliet," hopes were not high for Mary Russell. However, her turn in "The Canterbury Tales" completely atones for her past work (and proves that she should probably stick to comedy). She earns big laughs as an emphysemic old crone in the first act and, just when you think it can’t get any better, she reemerges as a noisy cradle-bound baby who more or less steals the show. Keep an eye on the baby in the final scene; her hilarious facial expressions are just a handful of the brilliant little touches that make this play shine.

It isn’t standard Tavern fare, but "The Canterbury Tales" is still a delightful diversion with something for everyone . . . well, everyone except the kids. (No, seriously. Don’t bring them.) Make the pilgrimage to Canterbury. It’s a worthwhile journey in every possible way. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Tavern Tonic for What Ails You
by uppermiddlebrow
Sunday, March 8, 2009
The Shakespeare Tavern this month becomes Geoffrey Chaucer's Southwark Tavern, the starting point for that bawdy pilgrimage to Canterbury. Unrestrained by iambic pentameter, the Tavern ensemble revels in our first poet's rudeness. If you're looking for some light relief and easy laughs in these grim times - and who isn't? - The Canterbury Tales is your show.

The production is blasphemous - and not just in the way Chaucer intended: the Tales satirize the TV evangelists of fourteenth-century England. No, there is a more serious blasphemy involved. The Tavern's Artistic Director, Jeff Watkins, has allowed Theatre Gael's John Stephens on to the premises, where he has mounted a show that breaches the Tavern's strict tenets of original practice: period dress, no updating of settings or language, nothing to obscure the original writing. It must have required quite some blarney from Mr. Stephens to pull off this unorthodoxy, but then Chaucer is a slightly lesser deity than Shakespeare in the English canon. And most of us would struggle to decode Chaucer's language in the original.

So does it work to let an Irishman loose on the first English classic? Very much so. Chaucer's feat was to show us a cross-section of ordinary, sinning humanity and make us laugh at ourselves. Mr Stephens's production is true to the original spirit. It's been a few years since I last read the Tales, but the rhymes often had a familiar beat, too. The show presents some of the strongest characters on the pilgrimage and the stories they choose to make their points about life. Laura Cole vamps it up enjoyably as the world's first feminist, the much-married Wife of Bath. Matt Felten does a sinister turn as the Pardoner, enriching himself by selling holy relics to sinners. The Pardoner has a dark view of human greed and gives us a chilling tale to make his point. And Drew Reeves and Mike Niedzwiecki, as Reeve and Miller, duke it out drunkenly to prove which one is more dishonest and more cuckolded.

The Canterbury Tales is a great vehicle for the Shakespeare Tavern ensemble's good humor and quick-change talents. The opening night audience roared with laughter throughout. From six centuries ago and an ocean away, Chaucer's arrow still hits his target.


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