It was a dark and stormy night when two weary travelers, Nicholas and Alice, stumbled upon the lavish estate of Sir John, a worldly man with a delight for ghost stories and folklore. To pass the time, John proposes a bet to Nicholas and Alice, promising them 50 pounds if he can scare them using nothing more than literature.
So begins MEDIEVAL MACABRE, the eerie and delightful offering from The Baron’s Men, one of Austin’s finest Shakespearian theater groups. This original work, written and conceived by Cherie Weed, incorporates scenes and vignettes from the classics, including Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Othello, Hamlet, and Macbeth, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and countless legends and folklore of werewolves, witches, sea hags, and other demons. Think of it as a revue of all things that go bump in the night.
While creating some semblance of story or through line out of otherwise unrelated yarns and stories may be a troublesome task, Cherie Weed does it with ease. She uses her original scenes between the main three characters to comment on the stories, and their often humorous comments are all welcome interludes to the intense tone of the vignettes. Moreover, her writing style is completely in tune with the classics. Not a word seems out of place or anachronistic, making the evening flow effortlessly from scene to scene. This is easily a piece that Ms. Weed could publish; countless troupes would enjoy the challenges of performing this play.
As the play features dozens of stories and classic scenes, the cast of over thirty which are featured in the fragments are all quite busy transforming themselves from one evil character to the next. All have spotlight moments, but they all understand that this is, in essence, an ensemble piece and none pull focus or deserve more or less praise than the next.
The main three players, however, are truly remarkable in keeping the show moving forward at a quick pace, despite the Elizabethan drawing-room conceit which can be problematic for any production. Lindsay Palinsky’s Alice is deliciously cowardly, and her explanation of all her superstitious trinkets is hysterical. Aaron Miemuth instills a strong dose of cockiness and arrogance in Nicholas. But it is Scott Jones as the host, John, who gets to have the most fun as he tries to spook his guests and the audience. He plays John with a sly, almost sinister mysteriousness that is absolutely captivating, and his voice is so rich I’d be content to hear him read the phone book, so hearing him read classic literature instead is a true treat.
And though the stories told may be old, the creative team makes everything seem fresh and daring by, oddly enough, going back to tried and true methods that have been employed for centuries. When faced with classic pieces, many directors focus on the language and sacrifice the action, turning out a beautifully spoken but stiffly acted event. In director Pamela Martin’s hands, every moment is a gorgeous picture accompanied by equally gorgeous language. She utilizes the Curtain Theater’s Elizabethan design to great effect. Actors appear from balconies, aisles, and even from under the audience. Liegh Hegedus’s lighting design is eerie, moody, and downright creepy, despite only utilizing a handful of electric lights and a few torches. The costumes, a joint achievement of Liegh Hededus, Pamela Martin, Dawn Allee, Cherie Weed, and Katy Thompson, are absolutely stunning. The finale, featuring an entire company of demons and devils, is a feast for the eyes.
And of course, I’d be completely remiss if I did not mention the performance space. The Curtain Theater is an experience in itself. The open air, wooden replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London is nothing short of spectacular, and the location on Lake Travis is beautiful. While it might not be too far away from Austin, you will feel transported to another time.
Whether you’re a fan of scary stories, a lover of classic theater, or just want to check out a replica of a Shakespearian style theater, you must see MEDIEVAL MACABRE. This show is one devilish Halloween treat.
MEDIEVAL MACABRE plays the Curtain Theater at 7400 Coldwater Canyon Dr, Austin 78730. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays now thru October 27th with an additional performance on Thursday, October 25th. Performances begin at 8pm with a pre-show at 7:45pm. Tickets are $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for students and seniors. For tickets and information, visit www.thebaronsmen.org. Run time: Approximately 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission.