To Beer or not to Beer: Rick Miller’s MacHomer

For generations, directors have tried to make Shakespeare more palatable for general (read: non-Shakespeare-reading) audiences with varying degrees of success. Directors of Shakespearean dramas for contemporary audiences generally handle the ever-growing gap betwixt the Bard’s time and today in two ways. Some choose to update the setting (see Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet 2000); others choose to update the script (see 10 Things I Hate About You, a modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew). Rick Miller, creator, writer, and sole performer of MacHomer, has updated the script, the setting, and the players themselves of Macbeth, changing it from the Scottish tragedy to a Springfieldian comedy.

MacHomer’s premise is simple: Macbeth as performed by Simpsons characters. As a one-man-show, Miller fills all of the roles, impersonating over fifty of Springfield’s residents, albeit with varying degrees of success. For instance, Miller’s Homer is not quite the same as Dan Castalenetta’s, and so he relies on cadence, Homerish mannerisms, and the occasional wavering pitch to capture the spirit of Homer; his Marge and Barney Gumble, on the other hand, are dead ringers for Julie Kavner’s and Dan Castalenetta’s original voice characterizations. Miller has wisely condensed his weakest imitations into throwaway one-liners, written into the performance mainly to incorporate as many of the Simpsons’ characters as possible. Despite a few shortcomings (most notably his impersonations of Bart and Lisa), the play is truly a tour-de-force for Miller, who freely and easily switches from Captain McAllister to Moe Syzlak to Principal Seymour Skinner, all in the span of thirty seconds. As if the vocal gymnastics were not enough, Miller turns in a marathon performance, taking just one brief break during the 75-minute show for a much-needed drink of water. Moreover, he sings several songs including an unrelated, yet hilarious epilogue where he impersonates the “most annoying voices in popular music” singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even if you are not a fan of Shakespeare or the Simpsons, Miller’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Miller and his production staff, most especially director Sean Lynch and Beth Kates (who wears many hats including set designer, production manager, and stage manager), have also done an outstanding job in helping audiences understand both the plot and the many characters Miller embodies so fluidly. At the rudimentary level, the play’s program contains a summary of each act as well as a cast list indicating which Simpsons character plays what part in MacHomer. The set, which includes a projection screen and a television with cartoonish dimensions, also assists the audience in comprehending the action. The image shown on the projection screen indicates either the scene or an introduction to characters making their first appearance on stage. In addition to serving as the Weird Sisters’ cauldron, the TV occludes a video camera connected to the projection screen, allowing Miller to use facial expressions and certain props to comedic effect during moments of the performance. An audio track providing ambient noises and additional vocal accompaniment further clues the audience in as to what they see unfolding before them, and Kates uses different lighting cues to denote asides and soliloquies. Miller himself underscores his impersonations with some unique blocking for each of the principal characters, making it more obvious which character he is playing at each moment. All of these elements interact seamlessly; the play is easy to follow despite the subject matter and the language.

Miller, having also written the play, has condensed Shakespeare’s original five acts into a leaner two-act structure. The characters speak in a pidgin tongue, using mainly the Bard’s style and diction but slipping occasionally into contemporary speech with a moment of metatheatricality usually accompanying these tangents. For instance, King Duncan (played by the centenarian C. Montgomery Burns) first offers one of his three daughters (Goneril, Regan, or Cordelia) to MacHomer until sycophantic Smithers (playing Malcolm) reminds him that they are performing Macbeth and not King Lear. Another such moment occurs when Bart, playing Fleance, refuses to say his lines (indicating that Bart is one of Miller’s weakest impersonations), and the “play director” Llewellyn Sinclair (originally voiced by Jon Lovitz for the fourth-season episode “A Streetcar Named Marge”) must choose another performer—entertaining first Milhouse Van Houten, then himself, before finally choosing Rod Flanders—for the role. Miller nevertheless deftly manages to capture the spirit of both components of his source material: the language of Shakespeare with the self-referential humor of the Simpsons.

Overall, Miller and company achieve their goal of adding that spoonful of sugar necessary to make the Shakespeare go down for general audiences. The somewhat revisionist finale calls into question the pretension that often comes with performance of Shakespeare in its reminder to the audience that has laughed for the last hour and ten minutes that Macbeth is a tragedy. Miller clearly loves both the Bard and El Barto, however, and he wants you to do the same.

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