By Myah Schultz & Sarah Schultz
A cockentrice is a medieval dish consisting of a suckling pig’s upper body sewn onto the bottom half of a capon or turkey. Gnarly Bard Theater’s Tales from the Fiefdom: A Medieval Musical in One Act is a cockentrice of a show, tasty and absurd.
The show opens with great gravitas as the cast solemnly takes the stage, singing a dark, rich madrigal. The sound is warm and full; Bubba Hollenhorst’s meaty bass anchors the ensemble. The vocal lines are deftly woven, displaying great choral and compositional skill. The composer’s prowess is further emphasized as the show unfolds, leaping madly between genres, from 80’s power ballads to 50’s beach bops.
The show is comprised of a series of whimsically grim vignettes. Many of them center around Nicole Wilder as the Apothecary. Her voice is clear and easy, smooth and sonorous—it is perfect for storytelling. She is the Joan Baez of the middle ages.
Ryan Huxford is introduced to us as a poor penniless sot, sad and stumbling. But as soon as the bouncy strains of “Pleasant Peasant” begin, he becomes chipper and animated, slapping on a cheesy grin and adopting a campy strut. The song details the brutal murder of an entire village, but it’s undeniably funny. The antagonist—a “bad man”—stalks across the stage singing of his order to kill, his sword growing outlandishly larger with each pass.
“A Squire’s Lament” slays with driving synth, an unexpected twist, and two wooden flutes.
“Witches” delivers another delightful twist and an uproarious and angsty cameo from the devil, who can’t believe his buddy betrayed him.
Tales from the Fiefdom deftly walks the line between crude and charming—a fact well-illustrated in “Bucket.” Writers Bubba Holly and Louie Opatz carefully lead the audience up to the raunchy punch line, which Clare Rolinger delivers perfectly, putting her comedic chops on full display. She never loses her character’s thread; the bawdy content is simply an expression of her inner turmoil.
The entire cast brings so much energy to this show. They flesh out each of their characters, taking turns setting each other up for laughs. They bring it home with “Plague!” a vivacious group number filled with spirit dancing, blinding smiles, and of course painful death.
A rollicking ride from start to finish, Tales from the Fiefdom is well worth a watch. It is playing now through November 13th at the Crane Theater. Get tickets at gnarlybardtheater.com.