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Mmm ... Macbeth: Rick Miller channels Mr. Burns.

King for a D'Oh!

In Rick Miller's 'MacHomer,' the Simpsons do Shakespeare the Springfield way

By Richard von Busack

ALL THE world remembers the newspaper headlines the day after Macbeth was persuaded at claymore point to give up his crown. Yet it took the magic of Shakespeare--or maybe Sir Francis Bacon--to turn this grisly page of tabloid history into a play. Macbeth has been filmed more than 20 times. All that was waiting was The Simpsons version. Wait no longer. Rick Miller's one-man show MacHomer casts the Springfield family in the Scottish play.

Although the Simpsons had just appeared in a production of Hamlet, Macbeth may seem an odd choice. Let's see, Macbeth was vanquished by Macduff, just as Homer has been vanquished by Duff beer. I am keen to ask Miller who played whom: Selma, Patty and Edna Crabapple as the witches, yes?

"That would be the obvious choice," Miller says, calling from his home in Montreal. "There are so many great male characters in The Simpsons, and I had to find a place for them. MacHomer is based on a production of Macbeth in 1994, and we had male witches, so I made the three Principal Skinner, Moe and [sea dog] Captain McAllister."

There must have been dozens of roles for groundskeeper Willy, I say, persisting. How about the Scots captain at the beginning of the play who talks about how he was there when Macbeth took a rebel and "unseam'd him from the nave to th'chops / and fix'd his head upon our battlements." One can imagine Willy applauding. Yes, Willy's in the play, Miller replies. "Everyone has their own suggestions, and there are so many possibilities," he adds diplomatically.

And then there's the problem that Macbeth has no children, though Shakespearean scholars still fret over Lady Macbeth's talks about breast-feeding when there are no kids in sight.

"I had to mix the casting," Miller explains. "I had Bart play Fleance, Banquo's son, and then he complains that the play ought to be MacBart. That opens up the way for the voices of the kids. ... Lisa enters, playing the gentlewoman to Lady Macbeth but begins complaining that the play is crass in its commercialism. I had to get around the fact that Bart and Lisa are the hardest voices to do. I've done my best, come very close. I'd love to have to have more Bart in there--his spirit's so destructive, so attuned to the play."

In 1994, Miller was performing Macbeth on stage in the role of Murderer No. 2. "At a cast party, that's where it all began. It was a 10-minute joke with hand puppets." MacHomer became a fringe play, performed on the edge of theater festivals in Canada. Since then, the show has played 1,000-seat theaters, and Miller has expanded its scope to fill the larger spaces. "There's a lot of visual elements, though at its heart it's still a vocal show," he says.

As for the noted curse on the Scottish Tragedy, Miller is skeptical. "There have been awful technical difficulties: slides that get stuck, microphones that knock out your front teeth. ... While I respect the older actors' fears and belief, that superstition is still something I don't subscribe to."

Jinxes are one thing, but lawyers are another. No problemo, Miller says. "Fox TV has been very generous, granting me the permission to do the show. They worked around the lawyers to let me do it. I'm especially grateful for Matt Groening and his staff to take the extra steps to help. I approached them and they liked the idea."

MacHomer may not be completely unprecedented. Alfred Jarry's 1896 play Ubu Roi also restaged Macbeth as a puppet show, with a gross Polish glutton in the lead. But Miller has in mind something more than a burlesque, meant for those who can never get enough Shakespeare or enough Simpsons.

"I got into theater for more than just acting itself," Miller says. "I hope I don't sound pretentious, but I didn't just want to be an actor but a multidisciplinary artist. Theater can be much more than just theater; it can embrace of two things that don't seem to work together, but they do. The Simpsons characters work in the context of Shakespeare. There's dimension to these characters, so full of foibles and flaws, and deep down there's a heart and nobility to the show. It's natural to throw Homer into the role of the thane who wants to be a king. He's an ambitious but a lazy fellow who goes from wanting to kill a king to wanting a doughnut. And in the end, Marge wears the pants."

MacHomer plays Saturday (May 4) at noon and Sunday (May 5) at 7:30pm at the Villa Montalvo Carriage House, 15400 Montalvo Rd., Saratoga. Tickets are $30-$35. (408.961.5800. or Ticketmaster)

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From the May 2-8, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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