Double, double, toil and ... d'oh!

Theater Review

October 09, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

For the next four nights, the legendary Macbeth, long-deceased high king of Scotland, will stride about Woolly Mammoth Theatre's stage with Homer Simpson and Barack Obama.

MacHomer, the 70-minute solo show that Rick Miller, a Canadian actor, has been performing on and off for the past 13 years, is always a delightfully bizarre concoction. Only Miller would bring audiences the Bard's spooky, 11th-century tale of murder and ambition as narrated by more than 50 characters from The Simpsons.

Surely no one before or after Simpson has posed that immortal question: "Is that a dagger which I see before me, or a slice of pizza?"

And given that Miller is performing in Washington, a city obsessed with politics, less than four weeks before the presidential election, well, let's just say that Obama and John McCain might unwittingly put in surprise appearances.

"There are six or seven times in every show when I improvise and talk about the political and social issues of the day," says Miller, 38. "I might just have to throw in a few little comments on the upcoming election, which we in Canada are following very closely."

Members of the public have been voting with their wallets since 1995, when Miller first brought the skit he had created for a cast party to a paying audience at the Montreal Fringe Festival.

"It was a humble little joke that turned into something more," he says. "At first, it was more of a comedy sketch than a play, but I'd hit upon an idea that worked. Both the Simpsons and the Scots are these great, big, dysfunctional families. It's kind of like a Simpsons' Halloween episode where the characters are taken out of context and allowed to murder one another."

In MacHomer, Homer plays the title character, while Marge is Lady Macbeth. Barney, the big, drunken barfly, is Macduff, the hero of the Bard's tragedy. Ned Flanders is Banquo, Macbeth's murdered-friend-turned-ghost, while Krusty the Clown is the drunken Porter.

Mind you, Shakespeare's play lists 27 characters. In Miller's script, they are "played" by more than four dozen residents of Springfield.

"I made a lot of very subjective casting decisions," Miller says. "I couldn't bear to leave anyone out."

Though Miller voices The Simpsons' characters in their own imitable tones, roughly three-quarters of the dialogue is Shakespeare's, and the show encompasses about half of the scenes in the original.

"I don't pretend that this is the definitive Macbeth," he says. "I don't pretend that it's representative of anything more than one perhaps very troubled mind. Some people think I'm doing a disservice to Shakespeare by doing this show, but, believe me, I've seen far worse productions of Macbeth."

Miller has spent his life combining such diverse interests; relatively few working actors have bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture.

His enthusiasms were so varied he found it hard to concentrate on one discipline. An early mentor, the theatrical innovator Robert Lepage, encouraged his protege to pursue his studies in architecture, reasoning that the lessons about how people interact in space would prove invaluable on stage.

"Two days after receiving my degree, I was doing Shakespeare in the Park for free," Miller says. "It made sense to me, though I'm not sure it did to my parents."

The production? Macbeth. His role? Murderer No. 2. Miller had perhaps six lines and plenty of time to absorb the lessons that the playwright intended and a few that he did not.

"Not too many people can speak The Simpsons' dialogue in iambic pentameter," Miller says.

Miller's audience is as diverse as his interests. He's perhaps best known as the host of ABC's hidden-camera TV series Just for Laughs. Theater elitists know Miller as one of nine featured performers in Robert Lepage's esoteric LipSynch, a nine-hour trilogy performed in four languages that is based on the theme of the human voice. The show is touring the world.

MacHomer exerts much of the same crossover appeal. Miller has performed in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia and won praise from Shakespeare scholars and Simpsons' fans.

"The Simpsons are only silly on the surface," Miller says.

"Deep down, that show has a very big heart. These characters have a tragic nobility. We care for these louts, these idiots, in a way we do not care about the characters in South Park or Family Guy. And 400 years ago, Shakespeare was pop culture, and he wrote about the political issues of his time."

Nor has it escaped Miller's notice that the Republican presidential nominee reportedly claims descent from the ancient Scottish monarch Robert the Bruce.

So will McCain, thane of Arizona, stride across Woolly Mammoth's stage this weekend? You'll have to check with the Three Weird Sisters.

Sometimes known as: Patty, Selma and Marge.

IF YOU GO

MacHomer runs at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. N.W., Washington, through Sunday. Showtimes are 8 p.m. today and tomorrow; 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday; and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $40. Call 202-393-3939 or go to woollymammoth.net.

RICK MILLER

Age: 38

Birthplace: Montreal

Residence: Toronto

Claim to fame: Wrote and stars in the solo show MacHomer

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in architecture from McGill University

Personal: Married with two daughters, Vivian, 6, and Ellen, 2.

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