THE ROAD TO CANTERBURY
By Andrea Warner
To Aug. 21 at Queen Elizabeth Park (33rd & Cambie), 7 pm (meet at the Bloedel Conservatory). Tickets $10-$17 from 604-221-6604.
Turning public spaces into theatres is one of the things the Itsazoo folks do best. Last year’s Grimm Tales took audiences over the hills and dales of Queen Elizabeth Park, satirizing the familiar (and often disturbing) fairy tales of our childhood. This year, they return to the same stomping grounds as Itsazoo’s resident playwright Sebastien Archibald tackles Geoffrey Chaucer’s sprawling English-lit epic and high-school staple, The Canterbury Tales. Re-imagining five of its most famous characters, including the Knight and the Lady of Bath, The Road to Canterbury cleverly incorporates contemporary pop songs and moments of brash humour, all the while making each story a broad social commentary on how fucked up life is.
The cast is up to — and seemingly eager for — the challenge of bearing the worldly burden Archibald has set out for them to carry. In this make-believe universe, the audience follows the Host (a thoroughly charming and inexhaustible Peter Carlone), as he leads the audience through the park like members of a Chaucerian tour group, pointing out landmarks of interest and areas allegedly graced by Chaucer himself. Five other actors are planted among the tourists, and are selected to compete in a Chaucer-inspired tale-telling contest. The Preacher (Colby Wilson), the Teacher (Katie Takefman), the Dowager (Ella Simon), the Mercenary (Jason Moldowan, boasting a beautiful voice), and the Bohemian (Amitai Mormorstein) each get their turns spinning yarns that reference everything from the economic crisis to body-image obsession to racial profiling. Each actor is responsible for playing numerous characters in every remarkable, refreshing, wholly immersive vignette.
The stories range from black humour to bleak, with a finale that’s thoroughly jarring. One of the city’s best young playwrights, Archibald’s voice is a welcome throwback to rabble rousers like Bertold Brecht — though perhaps not quite as nuanced yet. He’s spent the last year echoing the social discontent of the masses (as with his corporate satire, Death of a Clown), but his work never feels like it’s trumpeting the death knell of civilization. Even Canterbury’s final scene, set to a reworded Bob Dylan classic, “The Times They Are Not Changing,” feels like a call to action.
And, since the show ends at the bottom of the Queen Elizabeth Mountain, righteous indignation is welcome fuel for the hike back uphill.