Rick Miller's international hit MacHomer is back in Toronto, and even after all these years, there still wasn't a boo-urns in the house.
Shakespeare’s classics have seen their fair share of loose interpretations, with Macbeth being a primary target. But here’s one that really puts the icing on the doughnut—the entirety of the Scottish Play played by one man, with no set or props, in 75 minutes, told entirely through the characters from The Simpsons. ¡Ay, caramba!
The combination of the classic cartoon and one of Shakespeare’s gloomiest tragedies may seem like theatrical blasphemy, but MacHomer is no frat-boy frivolity. Okay, maybe a little (it did, after all, arise from a Macbeth cast party in 1994). But in the capable yet crazy hands of performer/creator Rick Miller and director Sean Lynch, it’s one of the most captivating, enjoyable, and approachable renditions of the text we’ve seen. Today it’s celebrating its 16th year on a worldwide tour, encompassing 170 cities, over 700 performances, and half a million audience members. On the cusp of a month-long residency at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Miller brings back his creation, arguably one of the most successful in Canadian history, to his hometown of Toronto for the first of three of his solo shows remounted at Factory Theatre.
The show’s success speaks to a few factors: the universal popularity of The Simpsons, the epic notoriety of Macbeth, and the unexpected parallels between them that surface when Miller merges their characters and themes. Both Macbeth and Homer are driven by their basest of emotions (whether hunger or greed), share a fatal flaw of a serious lack of foresight, are at the mercy of their nagging spouses, and have a tendency to slide into soliloquies inside their own heads. And we all know that when push comes to shove, Marge is prone to nervous breakdowns in the tradition of Lady M. Other ingenious casting decisions are Flanders as Banquo (so annoying, it’s a relief when he is ki-didly-illed), Mr. Burns and Smithers as King Duncan and the faithful Malcolm (including “the hounds”), Barney as MacDuff (in an ode to his favourite beverage), and Krusty the Klown in a melancholic bit of comic relief as the Drunken Porter. A major reason why this show is so impressive is Miller’s ability to weave countless more cameos into the story without compromising the integrity of either of the works. Each Simpsons character is true to the show, and the subtleties of Shakespeare’s text aren’t overshadowed by the unusual interpretation. The story still comes through loud and clear, even to an early teen who struggles with the language (we say this because we saw it in 2006 as an early teen who struggled with the language). Toronto is a city that takes both Shakespeare and The Simpsons seriously, and this guy definitely has the smarts to satisfy any Billy buff or Simpsons Trivia pro.
And don’t tell Troy McClure, but Rick Miller’s performance is simply a must-see. He seamlessly transitions in vocals and physicality from character to character in seconds, and his energy never falters (even if his microphone does). And then, there are the voices. Trust us, if you thought your buddy could do a good Marge, Miller can do a really good Marge. The audience let out a few shocked gasps and laughs at the accuracy of her signature rasp.
A play that spans 16 years can quickly and easily become tired, but after a total revamp to include new songs and videos in 2005, Miller continues to update the show with references to Obama, Rob and Doug Ford, and the Waterfront fiasco. However, he refrains from adding in any references to more recent Simpsons episodes and sticks to the classic era instead, around the time when MacHomer was first created. If you’re not a Simpsons fan, you’ll probably enjoy MacHomer just about as much as you did reading this review. But if you are, you’ll be laughing more than you have in the last 10 seasons combined.