When an adaptation of a Shakespearean tragedy solves issues that have plagued classical presentations of the play, it's a cause for celebration; so, it's "Belly up to the bar, boys!" for Listen Productions' and director Geoff Kent's Deadwood inspired version of the Scottish play.

Transposed to the fictional town of Bear Creek, Colorado, in the 1870's, Macbeth becomes an epic shoot-'em-up for control of a lawless frontier roiling in the aftermath of the Civil War—and it works: For while tragedy once may have been the exclusive domain of kings, queens, generals, etc., in the aftermath of the everymen of Ibsen and Miller, deputies, sheriffs, and mayors of the Old West certainly qualify as tragic heroes or heroines.

Karen Slack as Lady Macbeth and William Hahn as Macbeth
Karen Slack as Lady Macbeth
and William Hahn as Macbeth
Photo: Michael Ensminger
When Duncan, the Mayor of Bear Creek, grabs Lady Macbeth's derrièrre or forces a French kiss on her, we need look no further for her motive in encouraging her husband to do away with this crass egomaniac. That women were vastly outnumbered by men in these outposts and that many of them made a living off selling their virtues, only adds to the plausibilty of Duncan's assumed entitlement.

Thus the accellerated assassination plan which, in classical versions, is so often completely reliant on Lady Macbeth's sexual power over her husband and on their blind ambition, now develops as a natural reaction to Duncan's offensive behavior, with the bonus of enabling the Macbeths to find a deeper, multi-dimensional relationship.

GerRee Hinshaw as Banquo, Robert Kramer as Lennox, Tyee Tilghman as Malcolm, and Chris Kendall as Ross
(L to R) GerRee Hinshaw as Banquo,
Robert Kramer as Lennox,
Tyee Tilghman as Malcolm,
and Chris Kendall as Ross
Photo: Michael Ensminger
And if the rough edges of 11th-Century Scotland have been softened with time and the filtered lens of our bourgeois worldview, then the sociology of the Macbeths' saloon, including the drinking habits, hygiene, and couth of its proprietors and denizens, bring the crude setting of this play back home full-force with a Western twist: The early accolades that greet William Hahn's Macbeth are not, as we have come to expect, for a heretofore genial and upright citizen (not to mention fierce warrior), but for a feared gunslinger whose power is delivered through the barrel of his six-shooter. Hahn's edgy, hair-trigger performance maps seamlessly to Macbeth's words and actions, bringing a fresh interpretation to the famous monologues.

Karen Slack's Lady Macbeth is every inch her husband's equal: intelligent, hot-blooded, and quick-witted; her monologues are the self-talk of a woman fighting for room in a man's world. Director Kent also discovers fresh motives for Lady Macbeth's increasingly tenuous grip on reality: her Laudanum habit—an opiated remedy for her grief over the recent death of a baby—her descent into madness as much an hallucination and occult eclipse as it is a psychological and emotional breakdown. Slack's candle-lit "Out, out damned spot!" speech—part seance, part confession—tops it off.

Lindsey Pierce, Trina Magness, and Jamie Romero as the three witches
(L to R) Lindsey Pierce, Trina Magness,
and Jamie Romero as the three witches
Photo: Michael Ensminger
The transposition of Scotland to the Wild West provides other surprising moments as well: GerRee Hinshaw's gruff, distaff Banquo, calls to mind the archetypal sidekick, with her drinking antics, impromptu dancing, and playful sexual innuendos; the witches, led by Trina Magness' spine-tingling characterization, become barroom floosies immersed in black magic practices (perhaps it's what they're smoking in their pipe).

Grounded performances by Tyee Tilghman, Chris Kendall, and Robert Kramer give backbone to the noblemen. Josh Robinson's Macduff is almost too clean-cut for the setting, but an impassioned response to the slaughter of his family provides the requisite substance to fulfill the final prophesy. Tina Anderson's saloon evokes an authentic mood and provides the flexibility for a variety of settings.

The Western dialect occasionally gets the better of the ensemble's scansion—with some meaning and phrasing lost—leaving us to wonder, here and there, from what further insights we may have been deprived. But overall, Kent's judiciously edited script (which brings the play in at two and a half hours, including intermission), admirably accounts for the playwright's intent in a manner that compells us to see ourselves in the unique, late 19th-Century mirror of territorial Colorado.

Listen Productions' Macbeth runs through November 17th at the Buntport Theatre. 720-290-1104.

Bob Bows


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