Actor, writer and director Rick Miller spent a good portion of his professional career strutting out on stage in Scottish garb to perform some of the most iconic moments from William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
Miller has been doing this for more than 15 years and he said he’s ready to hang up his kilt for the last time.
“The performance takes its toll on my body, my brain, my voice (yikes!) and especially on my family,” Miller said by email. “My kids are getting older and every time I head out on tour, I imagine them in therapy 30 years later crying about their absent father. OK, that’s a stretch, but I no longer enjoy the road show as much as I used to.”
Of course, Macbeth won’t disappear from the global theater scene in Miller’s absence. It will, however, lose one of its more unique versions. It has not only earned respect from Shakespeare’s faithful fans. It’s also attracted wild acclaim from audiences of critics, classic theater nerds and people who have accused their English Literature teachers of cruel and unusual punishment.
Miller’s MacHomer combines the sinister and dark characters from Shakespeare’s grim tale with the hilarious and yellow characters from Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. His one man show takes Springfield’s most familiar residents and recasts them in Shakespeare’s storied tragedy. He also uses the multimedia enhancements that have become his theatrical trademark. The show features portraits of the Bard’s dark and brooding settings in The Simpsons‘ style and stage cameras that turn the witches’ boiling cauldron into its a stage of its own.
The witches, surprisingly, are not played by Patty, Selma & The Cat Lady, but by Principal Skinner, Moe, and Capt. McAllister (“The Sea Captain”). Miller also voices a seemingly endless number of other Simpsons characters with his impressive vocal range, a talent that fans of his viral “Bohemian Rhapsody” video can easily picture with their mind’s eye.
The idea for this unusual pairing came from Miller’s time in a much more serious production of Macbeth in Montreal, Canada as “Murderer No. 2.” He started performing scenes for the cast as Simpsons characters as a way to pass the long wait time for his big scene. The inside joke evolved into an hour-long stage show that has toured all over the world.
Miller said “this gonzo concept” works because the two complement each other in some very deep ways.
“Although most would say their best years are past, The Simpsons have lasted because the characters are brilliantly conceived and they have found a way into our pop culture consciousness,” Miller said. “Like Shakespeare’s characters, The Simpsons hold a mirror up to today’s society and they tap into our universal values — both noble and tragic. There is an entire mythology of characters that Matt Groening created (and a talented pool of writers [who have] kept them alive), and these characters can pretty much reflect anything that happens in the world today.”
He also scoffs at the idea that works like Macbeth are stuffy and unworthy of our time just because the language prevents the the themes . In fact, Miller said (probably in his “Comic Book Guy” voice if our conversation took place over the phone or face-to-face) that Shakespeare is easily the world’s “Best. Writer. Ever.”
“One could argue that Shakespeare – more than any other writer, living or dead, writing in any other language or in any other medium – expressed more completely and fully what it is to be human,” Miller said. “Our torments, our petty desires, our concerns, our struggles…the good and evil struggling within us at all times.
“And come to think of it, that’s a bit of what The Simpsons do too, no? Doesn’t everyone have a bit of Homer, Mr. Burns or Marge in them?”
In fact, Macbeth may be one of Shakespeare’s manlier stories. It’s a tragic tale of greed, deception, good ol’ sex, violence and endless buckets of blood being shed for the audience’s twisted amusement.
“Macbeth is the shortest and one of the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s tragedies,” Miller said. “‘Guy kills King, Guy becomes King, Guy kills other people and gets his head taken off.’ What’s not to like? Like most men, he’s got huge ambition and a lust for power but deep down is a bit of a coward and his wife wears the pants (tights?) in the family.”
So why is Miller closing the curtain on these two pop culture kings that have kept him performing throughout the year and around the world? As the Bard once wrote, “ay, there’s the rub.”
He feels the production has run its course and he’s hungering for new adventures of his own. He’s also confident the play won’t fade away since it’s been adapted for a live DVD and a series of educational videos for his “Animated Shakespeare” project.
“I need to concentrate on new projects and work with new people in new media,” he said. “I have a restless soul and I need constant creative food to stay on top of my game. MacHomer is always fun to revisit but there’s only so much creative juice I can suck out of it.”
He has written two more solo shows including a one man media stage exploration of religion called Bigger Than Jesus that’s being turned into a film and a TV adaptation of his consumerism satire HARDSELL 2.0. He’s working on a third called BOOM that “will recreate 25 years (the Baby Boom after World War II) of history in 75 minutes.” He’s also directing a stage adaptation of another great work of man-lit, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Even though his final live performance of MacHomer looms over him like Banquo’s ghost or Mr. Burns’ security cameras over Homer in “Sector 7G,” he said he’ll miss it.
“I’ll miss the wild cast parties,” he said. “Seriously, I’ll miss doing this show in front of people because it’s a bit of an old friend to me. A kind of stupid, drunken college-buddy old friend but we still have a good time together. I’ll also miss reading Tweets from teenagers before the show (‘This MacHomer s*** is gonna suck’) and after (‘That dude has ADHD…and it didn’t suck so bad…and I’m now going to read the complete works of William Shakespeare’). OK, I invented that last part.”
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