And now for something completely different: Macbeth acted out by the voices of “The Simpsons.”
Rick Miller is the inspired lunatic responsible for MacHomer, a one-man show in which Miller, doing the voices of dozens of Simpsons characters, acts out a version of Macbeth that is recognizably a version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Apparently, he got the idea during the copious free time afforded by playing the role of Second Murderer in a production of the Scottish tragedy, debuted at the cast party, and has been touring the continent with it ever since.
The show is genuinely funny, and the better you know Macbeth (and “The Simpsons”) the funnier it is. Indeed, if you don’t know Macbeth well, a great many jokes will fly right past you – but don’t worry, there will be plenty more where those came from.
I had the most fun contemplating the casting. Some was obvious – but still brilliant. The rivalry between Homer Simpson and his neighbor, Ned Flanders, combined with Flanders’s conspicuous rectitude, makes him an obvious choice for Banquo. And Crusty the Clown brings down the house as the Porter. (“Knock, knock, knock – Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of Hell Gate, he should have old turning the key. [Pause] Ah, I got nothing – here, try this one: Knock, knock. Who’s there?)
Other choices were more surprising, but inspired. Duncan is another figure of innocent rectitude (if sometimes played as a bit dim), so casting Mr. Burns is a surprising and interesting choice, but one that makes sense structurally and pays marvelous dividends at the end of the play. But casting Barney as Macduff is nothing short of a miracle. The trickiest moment in a comic version of Macbeth is the one moment that cannot be played for purely comic effect without destroying the story: the moment when Macduff learns his family has been slaughtered. Miller handles it perfectly, the news delivered comically by Troy McClure (who plays several roles – that’s a “Simpsons” joke, but also a Macbeth joke, as the numerous plaid-clad secondary characters in the tragedy are awfully easy to confound), but received with utter earnestness by Barney’s Macduff. It’s a moment of real emotion, and precisely because of Barney’s distinctive quaver we’re able to feel the sting without being taken out of the overall comic mood of the piece.
The toughest casting, though, is Homer and Marge as Macbeth and his lady. And here, well, Miller frankly has a problem. Homer is certainly stupid and impulsive enough to be Macbeth. And Homer’s active but self-involved imagination provides numerous opportunities to mock Macbeth’s morbid but vivid waking dreams (“Is this a dagger I see before me? Or a pizza?”) But “thou woulds’t be great; art not without ambition” is not exactly the way I would describe Homer Simpson. And the differential in intelligence between Marge and Homer certainly maps onto the Scottish couple. But Marge is notable for basically never pushing Homer to be something he isn’t. And, indeed, Rick Miller needs to turn Marge into “evil Marge” whenever she has to act out of character, which is basically in most of Lady Macbeth’s scenes.
And then there’s Macduff’s line: “He has no children.” When Barney says this, it is totally convincing. But then we remember he’s saying it about Homer Simpson, and … well, Homer and Marge about as inconceivable without their children as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are inconceivable with them.
Notwithstanding this central difficulty, the show is an enormous amount of fun. It’s on perpetual tour (I saw it in New York, at NYU’s Skirball Center), currently playing at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. It’s worth the trip to see it, and if you can’t get there, it may well be coming to a theatre near you.