Rick Miller the Canadian has been doing the play about the Scottish King employing the voices of America's favorite TV characters for 14 years now. It's called MacHomer and it's an hour-long version of MacBeth as told through the voices of The Simpsons, all of them produced by Miller. The play has been enormously successful and kept Miller busy the past decade and a half, having performed it before more than half a million people in more than 130 cities and numerous high schools where, he says, "Shakespeare comes alive for the first time for a lot of kids when it comes from Moe the bartender."
"I've always said that Shakespeare was pop culture 400 years ago," Miller said by phone from his home in Toronto. "Neither Shakespeare or The Simpsons intended on becoming part of the high school curriculum. But both provide a mirror on society, on what we are. The two of them aren't as discordant as people think. It's just one dysfunctional family doing another dysfunctional family.
"And the writing in each, of course, is the best. It's guys from Harvard who write The Simpsons and they've given the show a depth, infused the characters with a pathetic quality that makes them almost tragic. You actually care about them in a way you don't about the characters from Family Guy or South Park."
Any consistent viewer of The Simpsons knows the show has often dipped into the classics whether it was the very first "Treehouse of Horror"—which featured a retelling The Raven—or episodes featuring Bible stories, Greek myths, Hamlet, or that one where the Harlem Globetrotters play the robots . . . wait, that might have been Gilligan's Island. Or Two Gentlemen of Verona. The point is, MacHomer has a three-night run at Irvine's Barclay Theatre this weekend. It's the third time Miller has brought the play to the Barclay, and his popularity had him and Barclay president Doug Rankin talking about changing things up a bit.
"We were actually talking about doing another play of mine called Bigger Than Jesus, which is a look at religion and really is more artsy fartsy, more challenging and takes more risks. We were talking about it, but then I think Doug looked out the window and got a glimpse of the local church steeple and said, 'Mmmmmmaybe not just yet.' "
So MacHomer it is. It's a fast play, about 70 minutes—well, 65 actually; the last five minutes are given over to a "completely ridiculous 'Bohemian Rhapsody' musical number sung by the 25 most annoying voices you've ever heard." The play's running time owes something to the physical toll it takes on Miller.
"Here, I'll give you a little preview," he says and launches into a generic Hollywood preview that quickly features the voices of such Simpsons stalwarts as Mr. Burns, Smithers, Moe, Marge—though, the way Miller compresses it over the phone it's more like Mr.BurnsSmithersMoeMarge. He says the pace of the preview is a lot faster than the show itself. Still, he allows that the production's relative brevity owes something to the sheer physical strain of jumping in and out of 50 different characters.
"A lot of voice teachers will tell you to train your voice organically, specifically, working on nothing but the voice," Miller said. "But, for this, I've needed to train athletically. Really. It's like trying to get ready for a 70-minute sprint."
There's another thing he's had to prepare for: Simpsons fans.
"I get inundated sometimes after the show by Simpsons fanatics who tell me I forgot to include Joe who walked by in one scene in season 12. I just say thank you. I mean . . . ."
It's a measure of where the culture is when it's the Simpsons fans who feel they must be keepers of the flame. Shakespeare fans seem much more forgiving. Having witnessed Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing, they're used to the Bard being interpreted by cartoon characters.
MACHOMER AT IRVINE BARCLAY THEATRE, 4242 CAMPUS DR., IRVINE, (949) 854-4646; WWW.THEBARCLAY.ORG. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 3 P.M. $20-$35.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Orange County art and theater scene.