Tuesday, December 23, 2008

D’oh! Sorry for the Delay…Macbeth at the Mondavi…starring Homer Simpson as the lead…Marge Simpson as Lady Macbeth...

...and the rest of the Springfield residents rounding out the cast of MacHomer!

On December 11, I checked out MacHomer at Jackson Hall. As I entered the theater (mid-way through my finals for the quarter) I realized that I recalled very little of the Shakespearian tragedy other than the few iconic lines that have made their way into the collective consciousness of our culture (“Double double boil and trouble…,” “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and “Out out damn spot”). How they connected into a narrative was a little fuzzy. But, I’ve been watching The Simpsons since they first appeared on The Tracy Ullman Show, so I figured I was as well prepared as anyone.

In addition to the typical audience at the Mondavi Center, I noticed a few busloads of high school students making their way to their seats - no doubt lured to the show by their English teachers with the promise of a fun evening of Simpsons jokes.

A voiceover greeted the audience and asked us, “How many of you have watched The Simpsons in the last week?“ Hearty applause. Then , “How many of you have read Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the last week?” A smaller, but still quite impressive applause. To which the booming voice responded with an accusatory, “LIARS!” (Confession: I didn’t clap for either). We then were encouraged to get all of our own Simpsons impressions out of our systems so as not to compete with the star. Loud “D’oh’s!” and “Eat my shorts!” followed for a few minutes (I did participate in this cacophony).

Once the audience was warmed up, creator/performer Rick Miller launched into his tour-de-force one-man-rendition of Macbeth as performed by the characters of The Simpsons. The script was billed as being 85% Shakespeare (the amount drawn from the actual Macbeth text seemed to be slightly less than that). And I estimate the remaining was comprised of 12% Simpsons citations, 5% nods to other cartoons, 4% general pop culture allusions, 3% Broadway/musical theater renditions, 2% political commentary and current events, and 1% self referential digs (yes, I know there’s more than 100% there - but Miller‘s show was packed so densely, it felt like at least 112%). And the pace was quick. Miller dusted off the 5 act play in a neat 90 minutes without intermission.

Rick Miller’s technical virtuosity was unparalleled. Not only did he nail the subtle inflections and cadence of every Simpson character (the press materials say he does over 50 voices - though I didn’t keep track), but with the slightest posture change or arm gesture, he was also able to encapsulate and embody each character with his physicality as well.

So, did it work? Well, the plot of Macbeth was generally elucidated (prophesies, plotting, murder, deceit, hubris, comeuppance). The multitude of Springfield residents were all impeccably cast and realized. I laughed at the jokes….and I knew that as I laughed, I was probably missing the next 7 references - but I was OK with that. And because of the mile-a-minute ADD-like nature of the script aimed at just about everyone, the show was probably accessible to even those not versed in either Shakespeare or the Simpsons-verse.

Miller’s use of video and multimedia worked to help fill the huge stage, but I kept wishing the show had been produced in the more intimate Studio Theater where I would have really been able to take in all of Miller’s facial expressions. I had the sense that Miller was larger than life, but for me (and, I imagine, anyone else sitting beyond the 10th row), he became swallowed up into the space. I also felt his encore, in which he sang Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the vocal stylings of famous rock stars from Elvis Costello to Bon Jovi, to be irrelevant and a touch egotistical (though admittedly very entertaining).

Nonetheless, it was great to see a young crowd out and about and engaged with the show. It also was a a perfect study break for me between finals!

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