Double, Double Toil and D'oh!
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 10, 2008
Performing "Macbeth" solo is tough enough, but doing it as the cast of "The Simpsons"? It's a challenging gimmick. A one-joke "mistake."
Or, as Homer would say: "Mmmm, steak . . ."
That's the kind of drifty Homer-esque sequencing (and one of the actual punch lines, from the show's womb untimely ripped) you get in "MacHomer," Rick Miller's one-man pileup of Shakespeare and Fox's animated TV hit. It's a vocal tour de force, with Miller playing more than 50 animated characters in roughly 80 minutes -- and just you try talking like Marge Simpson on a witchy rampage and see how your larynx holds out.
Miller nails his Marge and many more at Woolly Mammoth, where his much-toured cult hit runs through Sunday. Short as it is, "MacHomer" is possibly the densest show in town, for it flits and free-associates like the TV series it's based on. If "Macbeth" gives it plot, "The Simpsons" gives it structure, which means the quick-and-savvy cultural take is king.
Sean Connery makes an appearance, and so do a couple of non-"Simpsons" Simpsons (O.J. and Jessica). John McCain and the bailout package each get a holler, yet Miller doesn't seem way off base when he claims that his script is predominantly Shakespeare. He just packs it so tight that the audience barely has time to laugh between lines. But then, a lot of it is actually the grim "Macbeth," even if the chipper Ned Flanders is Banquo, the beer-guzzling Barney Gumble is MacDuff and the sinister Charles Montgomery Burns is Duncan, king of Scotland.
And for the record, "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening has blessed Miller's liberties.
Miller gets a lot of help from the video design; he's constantly playing against a busy animated backdrop, and the characters frequently pop up on the screen. (Bart and Lisa are only seen briefly -- as are the chain-smoking Bouvier sisters; Itchy and Scratchy; and most of Springfield.) Miller also has a video camera tucked into the bottom of the TV-shaped caldron on stage, so when he peers into it his face fills the big screen behind him.
That leads to a dazzling puppet montage as he recaps the first half of the show, and when you throw in Miller's own highly active sound design (everything from jokey effects to dramatically potent Beethoven for MacDuff's tearful scene), you have to give "MacHomer" awfully high marks for technical difficulty.
Artistically? Well, you could talk about how Homer and Macbeth both suffer from an intensely divided conscience, which in Homer's case is manifested in such lines as "Stupid Banquo!" Miller's just having fun, which is the only implicit promise of enterprising knockoffs like this ("One Man Star Wars," "Tiny Ninja Macbeth" -- it's a cottage industry).
Still, like a guy busting a cinder block with his forehead, Miller awes more than he delights, so it's nice that he adds value at the end by serving up hilarious vocal impressions of singers ranging from Tom Waits to Andrea Bocelli. Might not be fair to reveal exactly why he does it -- it has nothing to do with Shakespeare or "The Simpsons" -- but it's the exclamation point that this high-tech street theater act needs.
MacHomer, created and performed by Rick Miller. Directed by Sean Lynch. Costume design, Veronik Avery; video design, EnTechneVision.com; video staging, WYRD productions. About 80 minutes.