It is not exactly Chaucer’s England. Here there are moat bears. There is chocolate, too, along with women who want inordinate quantities of it. Instead of passing the daffodils while on horseback, these pilgrims are in a bar. It is the night before they set off for Canterbury. Inn and bar owner Tabby (Maya Jackson), in a bid to make as much money as she can from the pilgrims by keeping them drinking until they must stay the night, sets a challenge: whoever tells the best story will win a free dinner, drinks and dessert. While one pilgrim tells the tale, the others must act it out. And the teller must use puppets, made ad-lib from objects found in the bar. What follows is a delightful, riotous romp through seven of Chaucer’s stories, with clever updates and a thorough makeover of the language.
In the Wife of Bath’s tale, co-written by Ann and Shawn Fraistat, the unlucky protagonist hurls an insult at the woman who has helped him: “You’re an old people raisin!” He goes on to say other things in the same sentence which are highly amusing, decidedly un-Chaucerian, and not for families with small children. “A woman without love,” the Wife of Bath muses—several drinks in—“is like a cow on fire.” This is a place of manrods, drunkenness, truculent codpieces, and horses made out of a suit of armor’s foot and a long stick.
While the production does a good job of illuminating Chaucer’s tales, the play is more a reflection on story telling itself. It is as if the members of Pointless Theatre were holding a mirror up to themselves, their vitality and innovation, commenting on the joys and frustrations of putting stories together, of acting and directing. In that sense it calls to mind the recent hit, Circle Mirror Transformation, but Canterbury is deeper, livelier, and much, much funnier.
The acting is uniformly good, with outstanding performances by Lex Davis (the Miller) and Lee Gerstenhaber (the Wife of Bath). Under Matt Reckeweg’s direction, the actors hold the audience’s attention completely. Two accomplished musicians in the corner of the bar, Niall Owen McCusker and Michael Winch, play fiddle, guitar, and lute, nicely setting the scene and tone for the different stories. Natalie Drutz’s costumes and Patti Kalil’s puppets and set and are just right—a creative mix of rustic simplicity, innovation, and over-the-top drama.
Pointless Theatre, a company comprised of twenty young artists, has found a home base and support from Cultural DC, and presented Canterbury as part of the 2012-2013 Mead Theatre Lab Program. You can’t go wrong seeing this production—a young company, doing interesting, innovative, and joyful work—and, as host Tabby points out, “so much puppet sex.”
Canterbury plays though March 10, 2013 at Pointless Theatre Co. at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online, or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.
Part 1: On the Road From Canterbury to Pointless Theatre by Alex Leidy.
Part 2: On the Road From Canterbury to Pointless Theatre by Assistant Director Sadie Rothman.
Part 3: On the Road From Canterbury to Pointless Theatre by Scott Whalen.