Review: Romeo and Juliet by The Baron's Men
by Michael Meigs

Austin’s Shakespeare geeks — and there are some! — have the opportunity this season to enjoy the equivalent of a Romeo and Juliet cage match at the Curtain Theatre, the city’s virtually unknown gem of a venue, a folie commissioned by Richard Garriott on the north bank of the Colorado River twenty-five years ago. Done as a classic Elizabethan-style thrust stage of appromately quarter size, the Curtain is reached via rough, winding roads that descend the hillside west of the Pennybacker Bridge on the Capital of Texas highway. The theatre is hidden amongst the trees and serenaded by nightbirds, crickets, and the occasional brief blare of pop music from motorboats passing along the waterway.


Shannon Gibson, Jared Walls (photo by Aleena Azhar)


The Baron’s Men have mounted Romeo and Juliet, April 5 - 27. Austin Shakespeare will perform the same work in the same venue May 23 - June 9 -- just over three weeks later. Comparisons will be inevitable.


The Baron’s Men, so dubbed in honor of Garriott, are devoted practitioners of the Bard’s art, and I’ve followed them since CTXLiveTheatre was established in 2008. They tell Shakespeare’s stories straight, treading the boards of a virtually bare stage; they employ vocal projection instead of amplification; their period costuming is usually meticulous and gorgeous. Theirs is a variation of the “original practice” approach, for they don’t hesitate to cross genders in either direction. The company usually produces a Shakespeare work in spring and in fall, regularly throwing in some Halloween macabre as lagniappe. Though non-professional, they are recognizably a company, featuring a core of cast members who return in various roles and assume various production responsibilities. 


Director Lindsay M. Palinsky and the cast have delivered an accomplished, impressive rendering of the Shakespeare work that was probably the first you read, back in high school. That in itself is no mean feat. Like the comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the tragedy of Juliet and her Romeo is so familiar that sometimes it’s difficult to make it gleam. Palinsky knows this text inside out, for she played Juliet in the company's 2014 production (CTXLT review HERE; review by the much missed Casey Weed HERE).


Pablo Muñoz-Evers, Michael Osborne (photo by Aleena Azhar)


Pablo Muñoz-Evers (via Facebook)We were there on opening night. As a Christmas present, I’d promised my daughter and son-in-law a “curated” selection of the best of Austin theatre, and this production was the first on the menu. They came away as enthusiastic as I was. Random events intervened to keep me from writing a review — an “appréciation,” as the French say — until now, but I’ve been pleased that others have lauded the production. I have some notes to add.


Three performers were particularly impressive: Pablo Muñoz-Evers as Mercutio, Shannon Gibson as Juliet, and Chris Casey as the nurse. Each formulated a clear concept of the character and filled out that idea with movement, voice, and interactions. 


Muñoz-Evers was indeed mercurial as this Mercutio—sudden, brilliant, mimicking, miming, carefree, and occasionally distracted. He moved quickly and gestured deftly, especially during the “Queen Mab” speech (though I’d have preferred a momentary pause just before that speech to focus the attention both of the character and the audience on the soaring flight of fancy to come). His articulation and strong baritone voice are superb.


Shannon Gibson’s Juliet is exhilarated, enchanted, and swept away by emotion, a creature so delighted and guileless that one’s instinct is to hug her for her innocence. Act I gave a complete and convincing picture of Juliet. Her Act II was consistent with that concept. Here, as with Mercutio, I’d have preferred to perceive a shift at some point, a refocusing to suggest that Juliet has become aware of the terrible seriousness of her plight and of the fact that adult reality has intervened.


Chris Casey (photo by Aleena Azhar)

Chris Casey’s nurse is devoted to her charge, and he’s careful not to exaggerate the comedy of this simple character. Because he takes her seriously, we are free to smile and to laugh at her foolish devotion and anticipation of fourteen-year-old Juliet’s forthcoming marriage—as well as to understand the character’s grief upon finding Juliet unresponsive on the morning of her announced wedding. Fun fact: Casey played Lord Capulet, Juliet's father, in the 2014 production.


Sundry additional notes: 


  • Julio Mella gives old Lord Capulet a harsh, hoarse voice that surprises initially. As the action proceeded and got to his vicious abuse of his daughter for objecting to the arranged marriage with County Paris, it occurred to us that Mella was portraying the man as a dangerous drunk. The frightened reaction of Annaliese Friend as his wife further reinforced that impression.


  • One casting decision underlined for me the downside of playing with a stable repertory company. Gene Storie has appeared so often on this stage as a lovable or befuddled character (e.g., Sir Andrew Aguecheek) that I found it difficult to believe his authority and anger as the duke whose rule was flouted and undermined by these feuding families. His costume did little to reinforce the character, for it was sufficiently similar to a nightshirt to make one wonder if he’d been rousted from his bed.


  • And, finally, that long staircase that’s been added to provide access from the balcony level to the stage presented as many difficulties as it did opportunities. It makes for a very long exit path in some scenes, and it manifests in awkward contrast to Romeo’s apparently irrational decision to clamber up the makeshift ladder on stage left.


So, bravo once more to the Baron’s Men for their devotion to the craft and art of Shakespearian drama; may ever more Austinites rally to the Curtain and applaud their elegant, accurate productions. And stand by: the company has scheduled its first ever production of King Lear for fall of 2024. 



Click to view the program of ROMEO AND JULIET by the Baron's Men



Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
The Baron's Men

April 05 - April 27, 2024
The Curtain Theatre
7400 Coldwater Canyon Dr.
Austin, TX, 78730

April 5 - 27, 2024

April 20 performance cancelled, due to weather; rain date is Wednesday, April 24

Curtain Theatre, Austin

Tickets via