Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
Last week, CC2K reviewed a very serious production of one of Shakespeare's lighter plays. This week, in an eerily perfect dichotomy, we take a look at a very light-hearted production of one of Shakespeare's darkest plays.
If you ever find yourself in the audience while a comedian who specializes in impressions takes the mike, I can pretty much guarantee how that set will go. He'll (let's be honest; they're almost always men, for some reason) whip out his best voices along with some broad physical approximations of that celebrity's persona (Jack Nicholson's smile, Robert DeNiro's tics, etc.), do the required Christopher Walken impression that all such performers do, and for the big finish, he'll recast a famous movie with current stars (it's Al Pacino as the Tin Man! Robin Williams as the Scarecrow! Tom Cruise as Dorothy! And so on…) It's almost always an entertaining and inoffensive routine, yet it would be unthinkable to imagine a full evening of such entertainment. The novelty would certainly wear off, leaving you spending ninety minutes with a guy who talks like other guys.
This brings me to MacHomer, the single strangest evening of theater I have ever been a part of. MacHomer is a one-man version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, which is already pretty unusual. However, to make matters even more bizarre, this particular man (Rick Miller) has cast characters from The Simpsons in every role, and performs all of their voices on his own. By Miller's own admission, 85% of the lines in MacHomer are taken directly from Macbeth, with only the occasional bit thrown in to spice things up. Helping him out throughout the show is a giant TV screen in the background, which flashes Simpsons-style backdrops for setting, as well as each character the first time they “appear” in the show. There are musical numbers, a blatantly bizarre new ending, and an encore that features The Bohemian Rhapsody, as performed by Styx (and many others), as impersonated by Miller.
To me, the most amazing thing about MacHomer is that, despite how potentially disastrous it obviously is, the darn thing really works! Miller's command of the myriad voices in The Simpsons universe is, with a few exceptions, simply remarkable, and this fact alone propels the show through the first half hour. But the true genius of the show is what comes next. Every time that it threatens to wear out its welcome (it is nothing more than a feature-length version of the aforementioned impressionist's finale, after all), Miller throws in a song, or another similar device, to keep the proceedings fresh and surprising. It is, as the theater cliché goes, a true tour-de-force.
But what, it must be asked, is this show really about? How can anyone mount such a production, where its success is dependent on so much prior knowledge on the part of the audience? Because let me assure you, not only MUST you LOVE The Simpsons in order to enjoy MacHomer, but you ALSO have to have at least a passing awareness of Macbeth, since the plot zooms by so quickly that it's very possible to miss something important. As I walked out of the theater, I could not (and still can't) decide if this play is the most brilliant method I've ever seen for making Shakespeare accessible to an ever-more literature-averse society, or a sign of our ultimate downfall as an intelligent country.
But that is a topic for another article. To discuss MacHomer on its own merits, the conversation starts and ends (or at least starts and continues) by discussing Rick Miller's performance. When you consider that even the most diverse of the voice actors on The Simpsons only handle a fraction of the characters on the show, Miller's work is simply extraordinary. The main characters are populated by those characters that he does very well, which led to Montgomery Burns as Duncan, Ned Flanders as Banquo, Smithers as Malcolm, and Barney Gumble as MacDuff (doubly appropriate, given the name of Barney's favorite libation). For those voices that Miller doesn't do so well, instead of ignoring them, he wisely inserts them in small roles that offer opportunities to let their personalities shine through instead. This gives us Bart as a Fleance that refuses to read the lines as written, and Lisa as an attendant that is horrified by the sexist portrayal of women in the show.
But special mention must be given to the two main characters in the show, for opposite reasons. Unfortunately, Homer is NOT Miller's strongest impression, which is truly a shame since he is the only possible choice to play Macbeth. He is affable enough to be sure, and given Homer's predilection toward innocent victimhood rather than devious plotter, it is only natural that Miller's Macbeth (MacHomer) would lean very far toward the worthy soldier momentarily swept up by his (and his wife's) own ambition, instead of the vicious and bloodthirsty general that he's often portrayed as. Great use is often made of Homer's very particular quirks, especially when the dagger he sees before him keeps morphing into a piece of delicious pizza. However, perhaps simply because Miller's other voices are so much better, there are several moments when Homer is “on stage,” when the audience finds themselves anxiously awaiting a scene change to see who's coming next.
By contrast (and let's be honest, very surprisingly), Miller's Marge impression is absolutely unbelievable, which makes “her” Lady Macbeth (Lady MacHomer) is the undisputed highlight of the show. In fact, given the fact that it's a man performing this voice, it provides a depth to Lady Macbeth that is, believe it or not, revelatory. When she has to, Lady Macbeth (Enough with the parentheticals; you get the drift.) is every bit as sweet and seductive as Marge can be (to Homer at least), showing the ways in which her feminine wiles affect Macbeth's actions in the play. But when her ruthless side comes out – most notably in the “Unsex me here” monologue in Act I, Miller allows his voice to fluctuate between Marge's female lilt, and the most demonic tones in his lower register, which bring out Lady Macbeth's brutality more effectively than I have ever seen in my life.
So in the end, there is true art hidden within the gimmicks and the very specific references (there are jokes that refer to Family Guy, South Park, O.J Simpson, and George W. Bush, not to mention shout outs to specific moments from single episodes, most notably the “Bra…VO (clap, clap, clap)” dialogue in Homer's brain, from the one episode where that happens) found in MacHomer. If you are ever fortunate enough to find Miller and company heading to your town (information can be found on MacHomer's OFFICIAL WEBSITE), head on over to either see the most unusual Shakespeare experience you'll ever see, or the most successful impressionist act in history. Either way, your evening will be really really really…good.