KING ME | Arts | Denver | Denver Westword | The Leading Independent News Source in Denver, Colorado
Navigation

KING ME

Purists may blanch at director Jeremy Cole's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but the adventurous revision has much to say to us. It's not perfect, but this production by the Cattlecall theater troupe is intense, knowing, and never dull. As the play opens, Macbeth has just quelled a rebellion against King...
Share this:
Purists may blanch at director Jeremy Cole's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth, but the adventurous revision has much to say to us. It's not perfect, but this production by the Cattlecall theater troupe is intense, knowing, and never dull.

As the play opens, Macbeth has just quelled a rebellion against King Duncan. But before he hears of his reward, the Scottish warrior meets three "weird sisters" who hail him as "Thane of Cawdor" and future king. When he learns that the king has indeed conferred the title on him, the wheels of Macbeth's imagination begin to turn. By the time his ultra-ambitious wife gets her hands on him, Macbeth has already thought about murdering King Duncan. And since Lady Macbeth is gifted with a certain talent for manipulation, Duncan's doom is quickly sealed--as is Macbeth's and her own.

It's a great story, replete with witches, murder, revenge, sword fights, ghosts and an overriding, fateful justice; in the end, evil destroys itself. But the genius of Macbeth lies largely in the poetic revelation of a conscience in decline. Macbeth is a good man, but his ambition is his weakness. When the witches first tempt him to consider murdering Duncan, he talks himself out of it. And when he finally does kill Duncan, he's filled with remorse. Evil, however, spreads like a cancer, and after Macbeth becomes king, he has his friend Banquo murdered--not for any treason, but because the witches had said Banquo would beget kings and Macbeth would not. He's just jealous.

Banquo's ghost haunts him, and for a while it looks as if Macbeth will go mad. In the end he has poor Lady Macduff, the wife of his archenemy, murdered along with her children just to spite her rebellious husband. These murders can do him no political good; they are vengeful and evil to the core. Macbeth has now lost all trace of his former self--he has turned himself into a monster. And when the monster faces his own death, all he sees is emptiness.

During all this, it is Lady Macbeth who urges him on. She is the brains in the outfit and refuses to manifest the empathy toward others usually associated with her sex. But it's Lady Macbeth, not her husband, who goes insane and then commits suicide. And here is where Cole's adaptation gets most interesting--he gives Lady Macbeth ample reason to go crazy. Without adding a single line to the play, he has her react in dismay to Macbeth's assassination orders. Then, disguised as a messenger, she herself warns Lady Macduff. When the murders take place anyway, they prey on her mind; a woman who tried to fill herself up with "direst cruelty," it turns out, is not cruel enough to survive her conscience. Cole's elegant little device works very, very well.

The playwright has cut and pasted much of the script, and while his changes are never unreasonable, they're not always effective. He borrows the "freeze-frame" device from the movies, for example, to give Macbeth internal space; when Banquo's ghost accosts him during the banquet scene, the other revelers freeze mid-quaff while Mac weirds out. It doesn't quite work, because the lighting system in the tiny church theater where the play is being presented just isn't sophisticated enough to isolate the actors. Then, too, Cole makes the mistake of trying to turn Shakespeare's witches into "fates," having them perform a new-age modern dance that is well-done but misleading.

However, the witches, played by Trudi Voth, Heather Van Vleet and Kristin Allison, are splendid. Their knowing looks, the eager evil in their eyes and their graceful insinuation of double meanings provide much of the show's richness. Cole also continues his experiments with gender-blind casting; Duncan and Banquo are played by women. Though the decision does make one think about issues of virtue and empathy, it's ultimately distracting.

Through it all, Cole does no real violence to the spirit of the play. He simply brings out different nuances, and his grasp of this great work is fresh and intelligent. He casts young actors as Mac and wife and changes the complexion of the tale to accommodate their youth and vigor. Emily Newman Walton gives a frankly astonishing performance as Lady Macbeth. Her motives are clear yet subtle and deliciously layered. She is less calculating and more swept up in desire than is usual for the role--a kind of femme fatale who successfully sets her man on the road to inevitable degradation and is herself destroyed by the path she chooses.

Brad Allen Brown makes Macbeth all brash passion and youthful energy, so that when he gives the great soliloquy of existential despair, "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," the speech reads less like cynical resignation and more like self-pitying anger. It's not exactly the most profound vision of Macbeth's devolution. But like the rest of Cole's interpretation, it's still powerful, beautifully performed and memorable--a Macbeth for the Nineties.

BEFORE YOU GO...
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Westword has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.