by William Shakespeare, as modified by Rick Miller, channeling Matt Groening
directed by Sean Lynch
produced by WYRD at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
reviewed by Tim Treanor
In the middle of the stage, a huge knife suddenly materializes. It is shaped like a slice of pie and covered in blood. “Is that a dagger I see before me?” asks MacHomer (Homer Simpson (Rick Miller)). “Or…a pizza?” He seems to be right; the knife has turned into something out of Domino’s. “Mmm…pizza.” His eyes close in rapture; he is smelling the melted cheese. All of a sudden it is a knife again. “Woaah! I see thee still,” MacHomer shouts. “And on thy blade, and dudgeon, gouts of blood…or,” the image wavers, “is that tomato sauce?”
Thus, in a single scene – really, only a few lines – Rick Miller has captured the central absurdity of his bizarre, delightful creation MacHomer, which is the merger of Macbeth and Homer Simpson. Macbeth, the central character in Shakespeare’s shortest, and one of his bloodiest, plays, risks everything, including his immortal soul, to rule from the throne of Scotland. Homer – well, you know who Homer is. Dan Castellaneta, who voices him in the cartoon, once famously called Homer “a dog trapped in a man’s body”.
O.K., dig this. Miller, an erstwhile Shakespearian bit player (he conceived this piece while playing Murderer # 2 in a touring production of Macbeth), plays every single character in Macbeth as if out of “The Simpsons.” This means he plays the three Weird Sisters, as Captain McCallister, Principal Skinner, and Moe the bartender, all by himself; that we then segue to Duncan (as Mr. Burns) and his son Malcolm (Smithers) as they learn of MacHomer’s martial triumphs from Ross (Actor Troy McClure), and then to MacHomer and his buddy Banquo (Ned Flanders) as the Weird Sisters explain their destinies to them, and eventually we meet Macduff (the boozehound Barney Gumble) and forty-nine other characters, all played by Miller. And as if this was not enough, he encores by singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” utilizing the twenty-five worst voices in the known world, including the excruciating Neil Young. By way of comparison, I Am My Own Wife has only thirty-five characters, and Jefferson Mays won a Tony for playing them all.
And this is not just casual celebrity mugging. Miller’s impersonations are so dead-on that with your eyes closed, you can imagine that someone left the television on and “The Simpsons” are playing. Even his application of the women’s voices is perfect. (Though not plentiful; early on, Marge’s lovely sister Selma complains to Marge’s other lovely sister Patty, “only a man would cast men as the Weird Sisters.”) In fact, his Marge Simpson (who is, of course, Lady MacHomer) is so good that I initially thought he was lip-synching to a recording, a la Milli Vanilli. (He isn’t, though. Honest, folks.)
With your eyes open, you see before you projections of Springfield, as transformed into ancient Scotland. The nuclear power plant has been become the royal Keep, and Homer’s modest tract home has been fortified with turrets and a drawbridge. Miller drew these projections too, with an assist from the folks from Craig Francis Design. In front of it all is a Flintstones-era TV, which doubles as the Weird Sisters’ cauldron. The use of these images, oddly enough, calms the production down, so it is more than just Miller frantically transforming himself from one character to the next.
Well. Let’s not go over the top. This is, at bottom, a play about a TV show, and sort of a one-trick pony. Miller, for all his cleverness, is not a better writer than the brilliant folks who put together the TV series. Nor is he a better writer than…you know. But for some reason, Macbeth has inspired more recreations, spin-offs and rip-offs than any other Shakespeare play, from the sublime (the wonderful Christopher Walken movie, Scotland, PA) to the ridiculous (the execrable MacBird). MacHomer, at an appropriate length of seventy-five minutes, is by a comfortable margin more sublime than ridiculous.
Running Time: O1:15s, including 4-second intermission for Miller to drink a bottle of Duff’s.
When: Until October 12. Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 5 p.m.; all other days at 8. Order soon. All shows are close to sell-out.
Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC.
Tickets: $40. Call 202.393.3939 or go to the website.
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