Ruthless ambition, bloodlust for power, a bloodlust to keep it, and paranoid suspicion.

No, it’s not a tin-pot dictator. It’s William Shakespeare’s psychological study of a tyrant, “Macbeth,” staged in a “Mad Max”-esque world of stripped cars, worn out tires, handmade weapons and post-apocalyptic garb.

Director Chase McKenna’s dystopian version of “MAXBETH,” opened June 10 at the Lear Theater Outdoors. As the title implies, the dialogue is one-hundred percent Shakespeare, but the visceral staging is pure McKenna.

“Macbeth” and its offspring, “MAXBETH,” are the same bizarre and bloody tragedies that turn our concept of moral order on its head. It’s truly a paradox because the stars, Macbeth (Cameron Shirey) and Lady Macbeth (Chase McKenna), also happen to be cold-blooded killers, whose brutal power grab sets off a chain of gang revenge.

The graffiti covered plywood and tin roofing that serves as the period royal fortress might be familiar to aficionados of the Mad Max franchise, but Elizabethan English it isn’t so much.  McKenna provided a literary pre-show narration of the plot via the “spoken word” of Jesse James Ziegler, who rapped and rhymed salient plot points with bravado responsories from the cast – a deft touch.

The open air staging under Saturday night’s menacing clouds created a dramatic effect as spotlights shone on bare-breasted warriors in kilts, who charged hither and fro, while blood spurted from hacked bodies and jets of fire shot into the air. Sound effects spilled from loud speakers and MacDuff (Lachlan McKinney) rocked out, microphone in hand, from the scaffolding – a clever metaphor to remind the audience that while the actors might look like barbarians, the Scottish nobility, cum dystopian thugs, really were rock stars of their respective times. But open-air productions also have obstacles and one of them is hearing actors with smaller voices or who turn their backs to the audience and deliver lines to the stage. It’s crucial to hear every one of Macbeth’s wicked or haunted declarations, even if the precise meaning is obscured by 400 years.

“MAXBETH” has a creepy element as well in the characters of the foul tempters, three witches, played by Megan Fielder, Cheryl Cardoza and Eduardo Freyre. Their scary makeup and costumes are just as unsettling as the vicious warfare. Projections of a fiery skull and ghouls, the bloody ghost of Banquo (Jessey Richards) that won’t go away, the evil visage of actor Chadaeos Clarno as a crazy eyed, bloody murderer, there is a definite Halloween horror subtext in the play.

For all its slasher violence, paranormal chills and psychotic stars, “MAXBETH” really is a psychological thriller, wonderfully staged and audaciously acted. I rate this show PG-35: Parental Guidance to the squeamish. Oh, and 4 blood-spattered stars, as well. Go see it…if you dare.

What: “MAXBETH”

Where: The Lear Theater Outdoors, 528 W 1st Street, Reno

When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June 26

Cost: Free

By Galen Watson

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