Rick Miller plays fast and loose with Macbeth, mixing the Bard with the Simpsons with side-splitting results. Photo by Andrew Eccles
By GEOFF DALE
STRATFORD – The moment you settle into your seat in the cozy intimate Studio Theatre, for the satiric onslaught of master impressionist/comic actor/physical dynamo Rick Miller, an odd realization hits like a lightning bolt.
Prior to the startup of the 75-minute hysterically funny MacHomer, you find yourself immersed in another but oddly familiar world – pleasantly tapping your feet, humming the melodies to a seemingly endless string of theme tunes from countless TV shows from the 50s, 60s, and 70s and beyond.
Then the lights dim, the ominous voice in the dark warns the packed house about the usage of electronic devices but even more importantly the potential of blurting out bad Simpson impressions, urging them to get them out of their system before Miller inhabits centre stage.
It’s time for a show the program notes say has been seen by more than 500,000 people in 170 cities – an outlandish take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth through the voices and gesticulations of about 50 or so animated characters first brought to life by Matt Groening and literally re-animated by the frantically energetic Miller.
Shakespeare purists might object to the Reader’s Digest version of the bard’s classic tragedy – two acts in just over an hour – but any public court of opinion (even the odd snooty critic with nary a sense of humour) would over-rule such a trite objection.
From the opening scene of the three witches (Captain McAllister, Moe Szyslak and Principal Seymour Skinner) plotting the corruption of MacHomer (Homer Simpson) to the bloodthirsty closing battle between the heroic MacDuff (a delightfully boozed up Barney Gumble) and the witless MacHomer, Thane of Glamis, the production is a non-stop explosion of puns, gags, satiric references to the likes of one Stephen Harper, the appearance of a “real” Scot Sean Connery and even the odd passing nods to such cultural usurpers as Family Guy’s Peter Griffin.
The casting choices are simply brilliant and spot on, with Charles Montgomery Burns as a wonderfully evil Duncan, King of Scotland, the unctuous Waylon Smithers as his son Malcolm, Marg Simpson as the piercingly funny Lady MacHomer and Krusty the Clown’s ineffectual drunken porter on duty the night the king is murdered.
In addition to Miller’s dazzling performance that has the star/creator dripping with set at the conclusion, he’s aided by animations that will delight Simpsons fans and, to some degree, actually assist those not completely familiar with Macbeth.
But is this really art?
A resounding yes – much like Warner Brothers’ cartoons What’s Opera Doc? and The Rabbit of Seville, or the Marx Brothers’ mind boggling cinematic assault on classic culture, A Night at The Opera. MacHomer, like those precedent-setting bits of pop art marry both elements of high and low-brow culture, making it virtually impossible for audiences along for the ride to determine where parody begins and ends.
The real tragedy here would be foolishly issuing a number of spoiler alerts, thus stripping the production of its many moments of sheer surprise or perhaps hinting at the joys of listening to the audio crucifixion of Queen’s immortal pop classic Bohemian Rhapsody by dozens of music’s most annoying singers – fans of Justin Bieber and even Bob Dylan, be forewarned.
While MacHomer “unofficially” opened the Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season, it closes May 26, just prior to the official opening ceremonies. So now is the time to catch a very clever, side-splitting bit of pop culture that merits four out of four d’ohs.