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A Consuming Marge Madness

Writer-actor Rick Miller uses 'The Simpsons' to turn Shakespeare classic into a terrific 'MacHomer.'

April 03, 2001|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For several decades now, stage directors have been pasting "concepts" on Shakespearean productions. Some of them are sensible, some outlandish. Some work, some don't. There was even a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" about a decade ago, fashioned in the manner of Dr. Seuss.

Now we have a staging of the Bard's "Macbeth," which played two performances Sunday at the Irvine Barclay.

What's outlandish about it is that all of the roles are played by characters from "The Simpsons," and it's called "MacHomer." What's sensible about it is that it's intelligent, often hilariously funny, and it works like gangbusters.

Even more surprising, and impressive, the whole thing is the work of one man, Rick Miller, a Canadian writer-actor, who conceived the idea as a cast party gag when he was appearing in a touring "Macbeth" production out of Montreal in 1995.

Miller not only wrote the piece, closely keeping to the original, but prepared the accompanying Simpsonish slides. And those 50 Simpson voices that ring through the theater with the Bard's words--and some very funny ones by the actor--are all Miller's voice tobogganing up and down the scale with almost operatic precision.

From the first moments, as Miller sets up the conceit of his cartoon version--the sudden appearance in a video shot of Homer Simpson's eyes suddenly superimposed on Miller's face--the laughs are continuous. Miller is having so much fun doing this exercise that his humor is infectious for Shakespeare adherents and Simpson fans alike.

Technically the hourlong production couldn't be better. The intricate lighting by Beth Kates; Veronik Avery's period-looking costume for Miller; and particularly Sean Lynch's tight, energetic direction are impeccable. Miller appears from and disappears into a large box center stage, placed in front of a large video screen on which his images, both real and based on Matt Groening's original characters, act like mirror images of the live actor.

*

His transitions from character to character are sure, immediate and often surprising. When MacHomer suddenly morphs into Lady MacHomer (Marge Simpson's voice) or the really dumb Banquo (Ned Flanders' voice) or even Banquo's pushy son Fleance (of course, Bart Simpson) the effect is mesmeric.

Not to leave the tragedy of "MacHomer" in the audience's mind, hilarious as it is, Miller has an equally slick and also very funny encore in which he echoes the 25 least listenable voices in the recording industry in one song. He's an amazing talent.

Sunday's two performances were sold out, but Miller will be back at the Barclay for four performances Aug. 25 and 26. Get in line.

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