Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Canterbury Tarot
B3 Theater
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of The Wizard of Oz

Kelsea Ray
Photo courtesy of B3 Theater
B3 Theater is one of just a handful of theatre companies in town that continually produce new works, including ones by local playwrights. Their latest offering is The Canterbury Tarot by Ashley Naftule, who also serves as the associate artistic director at Space 55 theatre, one of the other theatre companies in town that frequently produces new local plays. For The Canterbury Tarot, Naftule mixes familiar characters from tarot cards with the main plot of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tale" for a well-written and always interesting though somewhat muddy drama.

Chaucer's 14th century work focuses on a group of pilgrims who take turns telling stories in a competition. For The Canterbury Tarot, Naftule turns the pilgrims into the main Major Arcana cards of the tarot deck, including Death, the Empress, the Star, the Lovers, and the Fool. Using a framing device of a fortune teller using a deck of tarot cards to give a reading to a client, the play then morphs into a tavern of sorts where each individual tells their story to the others with each also playing the characters in the other tales.

Naftule's writing is very good, with dialogue and situations that are extremely specific to each character. While the dialogue is sharp and the stories the characters tell are interesting and varied, there isn't enough of a set up for the story competition after the prologue of the tarot card reading, which causes some confusion as you're trying to understand what the characters are witnessing and why they are all telling stories. Because of that, if you have no knowledge of tarot cards or of "The Canterbury Tale" you will probably be somewhat lost, as Naftule doesn't offer much to go on and it takes a while before the storytelling competition comes into focus. Also, even though there is plenty of doom and gloom in the stories, Naftule does offer an abundance of humor to the play, from the witty remarks The Fool makes as well as an ending that offers light and a rebirth of sorts along with a sense of closure.

Fortunately, even though the script could be clearer, the cast all deliver spirited, passionate, and determined portrayals under the sharp direction of Ilana Lydia and Carlin Thomas. There isn't a weak link in the cast, which includes Kelsea Ray as the matter-of-fact Death; Erin Buvala-Benites as the hilarious, scenery chewing, and constantly antagonizing Fool; and Anika Flores as the charming Star. Kayla Cook and Chris Frank are a powerhouse and powerful duo as the Empress and the Chariot, respectively; Carolyn Woodville does good work as the dual-sided characters of Judgement and Temperance; Lauren Miller brings a rich sense of realism as the shy and quiet but ultimately searing Tower; and Emile Fruean is calm and soothing as the Wheel of Fortune and Fortune Teller.

Thomas also delivers some simple yet interesting set pieces and props, and the music compositions and sound design from Chris Piraino add a nice sense of moodiness to the piece. Adele Palmer and Briar Rose Dangel's costumes are great as are the make-up effects. Also, M. Palmer's puppet designs are excellent.

The Canterbury Tarot may need just a small bit of tightening and added clarity in order for it to completely work, but as it is, it is still an intriguing and interesting play with varied and fleshed-out characters and stories and situations that hold your attention.

B3 Theatre's The Canterbury Tarot runs through July 1, 2023, at Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place, 4425 N Granite Reef Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit

Written by John Ashley Naftule
Directors: Ilana Lydia and Carlin Thomas
Stage Manager: Charlotte Strayhorne
Production Assistants: Ashley Naftule, Juliana Duran, Kamlynn Thomas
Props Design, Set Design: Carlin Thomas
Costume Designer: Adele Palmer, Briar Rose Dangel
Light Design: Ilana Lydia
Puppet Design: M. Palmer
Sound Design/Composer: Chris Piraino

Cast: Death (also plays The World, Suitor 3): Kelsea Ray
The Star (also plays Bluebeard, The High Priestess, The Sun): Anika Flores
The Wheel of Fortune (also plays The Fortune Teller, Suitor 2): Emile Fruean
Judgment (also plays Temperance, The Hierophant, The Devil): Carolyn Woodville
The Chariot (also plays The Hermit, Lover 1): Chris Frank
The Empress (also plays The Moon, Lover 2): Kayla Cook
The Fool (also plays The Querent, Suitor 1): Erin Buvala-Benites
The Tower (also plays The Hanged Man, Suitor 4): Lauren Miller