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Simpsons and Shakespeare

Observer Scene | Monday, November 8, 2004

The idea of the cartoon family the Simpsons performing “MacBeth” might strike Shakespeare purists as a travesty of a great work.They should keep in mind that part of the genius of Shakespeare lay in entertaining the peanut gallery while still capturing the human spirit. “MacHomer” undoubtedly turned the great tragedy into a comedy, but the performance was far from being an insult to the play. The play has to be taken with a grain of salt, but actor and author Rick Miller generally maintained a consciousness of the original words of Shakespeare. The interpretation even made the characters seem more human by relating them to well-known characters closer to the modern understanding. “Shakespeare was pop culture back then,” Miller said. “I don’t think Shakespeare is rolling over in his grave. I think he would have preferred this to a bloated, overacted performance of ‘MacBeth.'”Since Miller played every character in the fast-paced rendition of “MacBeth” himself, it is hard to judge his potential for more serious in-depth acting. He does have an astounding ability for impersonation. Homer and Marge were more than recognizable, but not his best performances. Other characters were spot-on.Barney Gumble is Miller’s favorite character to perform and probably his best impersonation. Barney as MacDuff is tragically human, especially for devoted fans of the television show. The biggest problem might be that after watching “MacHomer,” it will be difficult to watch a more traditional performance and not be reminded of Barney.”There’s something very pathetic about Barney. He has the soul of an artist, but he’s thwarted by alcohol and Homer,” Miller said. “He makes the role of MacDuff have a pathos to it.”Miller’s choice of Abe Simpson, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and Otto Mann to play the murderers sent after Banquo and his son was also inspired. The dynamic trio was beautifully incompetent and put a comprehensible face on some of the minor characters that often fall between the cracks in readings and performances of Shakespeare. Miller’s portrayal of Otto might have come directly from the show, and the dropout bus driver fit memorably with the clueless doctor turned murder. Just like with Barney, it will be hard to watch the escape of Banquo’s son in any performance without picturing Otto saying, “Oh man, we lost the little dude.”Miller has had great success performing “MacHomer” for high school students, and it is easy to see way. Kings and lords and antiquated language can seem pretty far removed from a modern-day classroom, but Marge and Homer are part of everyday life. Miller tries to perform for a school at every other stop on his annual spring and fall tours.”I ask the students who doesn’t get Shakespeare, and usually about half of them raise their hands,” Miller said. “They don’t get, they’re afraid in a way. But if the same words come through, say, Moe the bartender, they get the same words.”Miller has tentative plans to open “MacHomer” as an off-Broadway play in May 2005, which will be his 10th year performing the show. Although he is pleased by the success of his show, it has taken him by surprise.”You start playing houses with 2,000 seats and selling out, and it’s strange to think, wow, this is just my little trick,” Miller said.But it’s a well-done trick, and a trick with a ready and enthusiastic audience. It is also a unique trick in the never-ending field of trying to find new ways to interpret Shakespeare.Miller is correct in saying Shakespeare himself very well might have enjoyed “MacHomer.” And even if he would not, Miller can fall back on the fact that thousands of audience members do.