rating: ★★★A kind of MTV-generation thinking pervades MacHomer. It’s thinking that says to make classic art (like the plays of Shakespeare) relatable to modern audiences, you should throw in some pop-culture references and, voila, you have an easily digestible version ready for the masses to consume.
It seems that Canadian comedian and stage performer Rick Miller subscribes to this sort of thinking, and he really runs with it in MacHomer, a shortened version of Macbeth in which every character is performed as a member of The Simpsons.
Rick Miller does the show entirely himself. It runs 75 minutes and remains roughly 85 per cent Shakespeare, with plenty of Simpsons references peppered in for the show’s fans. It started out as a sketch that Miller incorporated into his stand-up routine in 1994, but soon grew beyond the confines of the routine and turned into a show of its own. Although Miller has been performing MacHomer since 1995, the show still maintains a stand-up vibe.
The biggest attraction here is the vast retinue of voices Miller puts to use. He uses around 50 different voices throughout the show, mostly from The Simpsons, and while some have only hints of the character in them, many impersonations are eerily accurate.
Almost everyone knows the plot of Macbeth, but for anyone who somehow skipped Grade 11 English class, I’ll briefly refresh your memory. Macbeth (MacHomer here) is a Scottish lord who some witches foretell will become king. When MacHomer hears this, he schemes with his wife, kills the king and becomes king himself. But as the body count piles up, MacHomer’s sanity and control of the kingdom begin to slip, spelling certain doom for the tragic hero.
Miller’s Homer Simpson impersonation is at the heart of the play and unfortunately it is his weakest voice. Perhaps no one has ever told Miller that his impersonation only vaguely resembles the beloved alcoholic patriarch of the Simpsons family, or maybe his voice is incapable of capturing the oafish roundness that Dan Castellaneta gives Homer. Whatever the reason, Miller’s Homer is only OK — better than what the ordinary person can accomplish, but by no means dead-on — and since a majority of the play focuses on MacHomer, too much of the show falls flat.
Luckily, many of his other impersonations are very impressive. His Marge Simpson is creepily accurate — in fact, all his female voices are strangely spot-on. His Barney Gumble and Ned Flanders are also very good. There are a lot of bit cameos by favourite Simpsons characters that work nicely, partially because the lines are so short and partially because the characters fit nicely into the play’s roles. The fact that Miller can jump so seamlessly from one character to another is astounding. This guy’s energy level must be through the roof.
There are a few songs interspersed throughout the show (seemingly for no reason). The show even ends with a musical extravaganza that has no connection to Shakespeare, but luckily, the song may be the funniest part of the entire show, ending it on a high note.
Only two things share the stage with Miller throughout the course of the play: a large television backdrop displays animated versions of the various settings of the play (the Simpsons’ house becomes MacHomer’s castle, etc.) and a smaller television set, with a camera set-up feeding onto the larger screen, is his only prop. This smaller TV often works as the witches’ cauldron and also allows Miller to ingeniously incorporate puppets into the show.
If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll appreciate MacHomer. It may feel a little too much like a comedy sketch and some of the impersonations don’t work, but it’s a funny show and the brief running time makes sure the gimmick doesn’t get old.
One thing is certain: it’s definitely not your typical outing at the theatre.