Friday, July 6, 2012

Another one-man 'Macbeth'

     I read on the Associated Press newswire that actor Alan Cumming will play all the roles in William Shakespeare's "Macbeth," which the reporter describes as "an Olympic feat of both endurance and gender-bending."
     I'm sure it will be difficult, but I've seen a more difficult performance:
     One actor playing all the parts, re-interpeted as characters from "The Simpsons."
     I interviewed the performer, Rick Miller, when his one-man show "MacHomer" was scheduled for a Detroit area run in 2002. It never happened for some reason or other, so the article never ran. He did perform it in Ann Arbor in 2005, and I was fortunate enough to see it, but the article still didn't run. 
     Miller is still performing "MacHomer," including recently at the Stratford Festival. I don't see any Michigan-area appearances scheduled at his websites here or  here, but a DVD is available.  
     Here's what I wrote back in 2002 (slightly updated in 2005):

‘MacHomer’ mixes Shakespeare and ‘The Simpsons’

     Rick Miller is a multi-disciplinary performer/artist. He’s most at home in the avant-garde theater world, though he’s also a classical actor. So how did he end up doing a one-man show that inserts mainstream pop culture icon Homer Simpson and his cohorts into one of William Shakespeare’s tragedies?
     It was supposed to be a one-off joke, Miller said in a 2002 phone interview from his Toronto home. Miller was acting in a production of “Macbeth” when he thought it would be fun to recast the play with characters from “The Simpsons” cartoon. He intended it as a cast-party gag, but it proved so popular (“It just seems to work,” Miller said) that, more than 8 years later, “MacHomer” is still going strong.
     Luckily for us, since we finally get a chance to see it. (A November 2002 date in Detroit fell through.) Don’t dawdle though. It’s only at Ann Arbor’s Summer Festival for one performance, and if you miss it, you’re likely to be going “D’oh!” for a long time.
     Miller said some people think it’s odd for him to be doing a show like “MacHomer,” based around a popular TV show’s characters. Miller points out that “Shakespeare was a popular artist in his time,” and “ ‘The Simpsons’ works on many levels.”
     For this show, Miller dons the persona and imitates the voices of some 50 Simpsons characters, but (fortunately for him) doesn’t make 50 costume changes. In fact, he keeps to the same basic dress (which he describes as junkyard Shakespeare) throughout.
     Miller had little trouble getting permission to use “The Simpsons” characters. “Fox has been really generous from the start, particularly (creator) Matt Groening. They’ve allowed me to do it. They feel it does a good thing for the show, and they understand (the value of) parody.”
     Part of the fun of “MacHomer” is seeing which Simpsons characters play what parts. Homer Simpson is MacHomer, his wife Marge plays Lady MacHomer, and Mr. Burns is the king whom MacHomer murders, but not all the casting is so obvious. “It was subjective,” Miller admits, but he seems to have given it some thought. For instance, Macduff, who kills MacHomer in the end, is represented by Barney Gumble, one of Homer’s best friends on “The Simpsons.”
     Miller argues that “Macduff fits very well as Barney, a tragic character in the play,” since Barney can be seen as a tragic character in “The Simpsons” universe. Barney, a bar fly at Moe’s Tavern, is also an accomplished artist, very intelligent and (despite his beer gut) even a great athlete. What holds him back is his addiction to beer ... to which Homer introduced him in college.
     Other changes to the script (which remains 85 percent Shakespeare, Miller asserts) include the witches’ cauldron, which in this show is a “flipped-over television set.” And since this is minimal-set show, various props also emerge from the TV. There’s also a video screen announcing which character has taken the stage and which voice is being used, so that patrons unfamiliar with “The Simpsons” and/or “Macbeth” can follow along.
     There’s a sense of Theater of the Absurd about the show, which suits Miller’s background and interests.
     “I studied architecture before going into theater,” Miller said. “Then, as many people do, I ended up in a musical,” and liked it. He didn’t abandon his architecture studies though. “Really, my intention was to have a hand in all aspects of the arts, from set design to performance.”
     Primarily this hand has been in the avant-garde theater world. He doesn’t see “MacHomer” as much of a departure from this. It’s a one-man show, playing with our perception and understanding of both the Simpsons and Shakespeare. “It’s entertaining. It doesn’t fall into the bracket of ‘high art,’ but it has value. It exposes Shakespeare to people” who never sat through or enjoyed a Shakespearean play in their lives, particularly young people. It’s made people care about Macbeth.”
     For more information on Rick Miller and his shows, visit



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home