“Curtain Up” is a weekly performing arts review column exploring the vast and dynamic theater world in Atlanta.
When I was an undergraduate student, I went through a kick where I thought I needed to take courses on all the greats. One of those was Chaucer. Of course, all we read the entire semester was “The Canterbury Tales.” I hated it. I saw the amusing aspects and the humor, how dirty of a man Geoffrey really was, but, I never wanted to crack that book open again.
I saw that The New American Shakespeare Tavern was going to be bringing his tales to stage and I thought this could be my opportunity to truly see this classic text done in the right way. Luckily, my instincts were right and I have never been so pleased to give a story a second chance.
The Shakespeare Tavern, located at 499 Peachtree St. NE, is one of those grand spaces where you can eat, drink and be merry. Before the show, and during intermission, the kitchen and bar are open, serving dinner, appetizers, dessert and booze – which this audience consumed a lot of. I have never seen more drunk housewives in one room, and they were quite rambunctious.
I guess the atmosphere provoked such behavior. With the talk of explicit sex acts, cocks, tools and fair maidens, you can’t blame them. The ensemble cast consisting of Veronika Duerr, Nicholas Faircloth, Matt Felten, Rachel Frawley, Rivka Levin, Matt Nichie, Drew Reeves and Mary Russell kept the audience in good spirits throughout the show. Breaking down the fourth wall and allowing the audience in on the theatrics of the tale while jumping from modern day to back in the day, the cast, under the great direction of John Stephens, put a whole new entertaining spin on Chaucer’s masterpiece.
Each member of the cast jumped time periods and countries while portraying characters with vastly different accents from scene to scene, or sentence to sentence. They never missed a beat. The comedic timing was outstanding. If this group hasn’t worked together in the past, you couldn’t tell. The chemistry and comfortability with the script allowed the audience on opening night to sit back and enjoy the show.
The scenery was simple and cute. It added to the slapstick feel of the comedy with the deuce size cans of ale that littered table tops and quenched the thirsts of bus drivers. There were puppets, a stuffed horse and doors that always found their way to someones face. It all added up to a feel good night where you left with a smile across your face. The humor was adult, but if a family were to attend this together, they would only see the obvious funny moments, not the hidden innuendos. This is a perfect night out to let loose before finals approach, have a good giggle and sip on some ale.
If you read Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” and didn’t find an ounce of entertainment value in it, it’s because you haven’t seen the way it could be done. Don’t doubt your ability to understand his old fashioned romanticized language. Once you see it on stage, it will all come together. Give it a second go. “The Canterbury Tales” is running until May 27 at The New American Shakespeare Tavern. For ticket or show time information, visit www.shakespearetavern.com.