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The bold and bawdy and very, very funny Aquila Theatre Company stage adaptation of The Canterbury Tales, devised and designed by artistic director Peter Meineck and associate artistic director Robert Richmond and presented Oct. 10th in Stewart Theatre by N.C. State University Center Stage, was a clever condensation of the 14th century milestone in English literature by Geoffrey Chaucer. “The Prologue,” “The Knight’s Tale,” “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Reeve’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” “The Friar’s Tale,” “The Summoner’s Tale,” “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Second Nun’s Tale” provide a splendid showcase for a highly talented cast who brought the colorful Canterbury pilgrims completely to full, glorious, gritty life.
Fight coordinator Kenn Sabberton was wonderfully wicked as the avaricious Miller, an insufferably cocky chap who routinely cheated his customers by shortchanging everyone who came to his mill to grind their grain, and a feckless Friar, much more interested in the pleasures of the flesh and material acquisitions than in spiritual matters. Louis Butelli played the quarrelsome Reeve and the thoroughly corrupt Pardoner with brio; and Lindsay Rae Taylor made the Nun a pretty, petite picture of innocence and reverence—but boldly discarded that saintly character for other, more worldly roles when the occasion demanded.
Andrew Schwartz cut a fine courtly figure as an aging knight; Basienka Blake was a hoot as the earthy, plainspoken five-times married and still very much on the prowl Wife of Bath; and Jonathan Braithwaite added a cheeky characterization of the Summoner, another corrupt church-court official like the Pardoner.
Comic highlights of the evening include:
“The Miller’s Tale”: Kenn Sabberton was a scream as the churlish, drunken Miller and Lindsay Rae Taylor and Andrew Schwartz provoked belly laughs by baring their backsides to play a monstrous practical joke on a pair of would-be lovers (Louis Butelli and Jonathan Braithwaite) who shamelessly pursued the Miller’s wife.
“The Reeve’s Tale”: Kenn Sabberton returned for an energetic encore as the larcenous Miller and Basienka Blake and Lindsay Rae Taylor were likewise amusing as his wife and virginal daughter, respectively, whom Andrew Schwartz and Jonathan Braithwaite secretly ravage—by trickery—as revenge for the Miller’s theft of their corn.
“The Wife of Bath’s Tale”: Basienka Blake was terrific as the titular character—and the Queen in the tale-with-in-the-tale—and Andrew Schwartz and Lindsay Rae Taylor added compelling characterizations as an unfortunate amorous knight who provokes the Queen’s enmity and the hideous old hag that he must marry—or lose his head—because she correctly answered the Queen’s question (“What do women want?”) with “Sovereignty over men.”
“The Friar’s Tale”: Louis Butelli was chilling as an archbishop who has secretly sold his soul to the devil, and Jonathan Braithwaite was amusing as the greedy Summoner who is all to eager to follow the archbishop down the primrose path.
“The Summoner’s Tale”: The whole company demonstrated its fine flair for “Married with Children”-style monkeyshines in this raunchy tale of a flatulent dying old man (played with glee by Andrew Schwartz) who mortifies a greedy Friar (Kenn Sabberton) and everyone downwind as he regular cuts loose.
Although a little long at two-and-a-half hours, including one 15-minute intermission, the Aquila Theatre Company’s uproarious rendition of The Canterbury Tales was still highly entertaining, with Peter Meineck and Robert Richmond’s minimalist set design facilitating lightning-quick changes from scene to scene, and costumier Megan Bowers’ magnificent medieval costumes and musical director Anthony Cochrane’s musical compositions adding an air of authenticity to the wild-and-crazy proceedings.
N.C. State University Center Stage presents the Aquila Theatre Company in The Canterbury Tales: http://www.ncsu.edu/centerstage/. Aquila Theatre Company: http://www.aquilatheatre.com/. The Canterbury Tales (Aquila Theatre Company): http://www.aquilatheatre.com/nowplayingchaucer_index.html [inactive 5/08].