Today's pop culture is tomorrow's classic. While that may not be a universal concept, it's arguably the case with both William Shakespeare's work, and in a newer iteration, the longest running television show in history, The Simpsons. And taking on faith that two rights surely can't make a wrong, Rick Miller has executed one of the oddest, and yet seamless, mash-ups in history in his one man stage show, MacHomer, which he performed at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House last Thursday.
As the title would indicate, MacHomer finds Miller performing the classic Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth as characters from The Simpsons. It's a simple concept, yet still not exactly easy to pull off as both have a dizzying number of characters—making them a good match—which requires an encyclopedic catalogue of impressions from Miller. And that's really the main draw of the show.
Miller, an actor and comedian, clearly has the gift of mimicry when it comes to voices. And MacHomer gives him the opportunity to showcase his entire range all the way from the lead character, obviously Homer Simpson, to Marge, Lisa, Mr. Burns, Smithers, etc.
Of course, there has to be a limit, and despite many impressive characters, particularly Marge Simpson, the one character Miller truly struggles with and rarely nails is Homer himself. It's clear throughout the show that he's not comfortable with all the characters, and to that end those characters are largely absent. The most notable example of this being Bart Simpson, historically probably the most popular character who is played off with a couple of mumbled lines about not knowing his lines and quickly replaced. Clearly, Miller wasn't comfortable with the voice. However, it still sounded better than his Homer.
Generally though, the voice work was impressive and fun to watch as the assignment of roles is not always obvious and quite clever. His enthusiastic mannerisms also add to the strong performances and help differentiate the characters, especially some of the lesser known ones.
The actual play is quite truncated from the original, running just 70 minutes for all five acts. Miller does use a lot of lines lifted directly from the play, with some artistic license for self-reflexive jokes and character specific references. The jokes themselves don't always work and sometimes have a look-at-me feel, but generally the acknowledgement that the project is simultaneously audacious and silly helps the audience in accepting the odd premise.
Ultimately why the show works is that The Simpsons itself has established a lengthy history of deft parody, leading to numerous scholarly texts on the subject, particularly Jonathan Gray's Watching With the Simpsons: Television, Parody & Intertextuality. That's right, it's not just a standard sitcom. What creator Matt Groening and his team have created is a wonderfully self-reflexive look on society and the modern nuclear family. And they also provide the best example of parody in entertainment today. And that makes the show ripe for a Shakespearean reimagining, something Miller realized early in the show's run in 1994 when he started working on it.
Yes, 1994. Miller has been doing the show for 17 years. That's a long time, and Miller agrees as the Winspear performance was his penultimate live performance of the piece. But fear not, for those interested, the show has been put on DVD and can be purchased on Miller's website.
To buy or not to buy, though, largely depends on one's status of a fan of either. Obviously, fans of both will find the show amusing enough to keep around. If you're unfamiliar with The Simpsons you might be lost; but if you know the TV series and not the play, you'll probably be OK. If anything, this is a nice accessible piece for those unfamiliar with the Bard's work. It's brief, funny, and still tells the actual story. It's like a comedic cliff notes version, that while it may not become as classic as its source material, it's certain to live on at least longer than most of its characters.