Monday, February 7, 2011

Is this a donut I see before me? MacHomer storms into Neptune

i went to see neptune theatre's new studio play, machomer, saturday afternoon. rick miller was here last year with bigger than jesus and i left machomer equally dazzled. i had dinner with friends after and told them about the play - they had been to see it 15 years ago, in winnipeg, and still remembered it clearly. it's that kind of play. if you click here, you can see a video promotion for it.

after the play, miller does a sort-of encore rendition of bohemian rhapsody, which you can watch here. it has nothing to do with shakespeare or the simpsons, but it gives you an idea of what you're in for.  

here's my review for halifax magazine


There’s an old quote about dancing dogs – it’s not a question of whether it’s done well, but that it’s done at all that commands our attention. I give you: MacHomer, a rendition of Shakespeare’s Macbeth performed by 53 characters from The Simpsons, performed by one man. Your mind will boggle, your brain will thrill and your belly will shake with laughter, and you will not even know why. At times, you cannot tell if Rick Miller is acting or having a full spiritual breakdown.

Neptune Theatre has not seen such a hurricane of a play since Rick Miller was here last year with Bigger Than Jesus. MacHomer is just what it sounds like. On a small stage decorated with a TV and a giant screen, onto which are beamed the faces of Marge, Apu, Krusty the Clown, et al, to help us keep our bearings, Miller sports a kilt and chainmail and recites the classic play of vaulting ambition, regicide and a terrible revenge. Homer is Macbeth, Marge is Lady Macbeth, Mr Burns is King Duncan, Barney is Macduff and – well, you get the picture. Miller sticks pretty closely to the text, although breaks away enough to make it feel like a Simpsons special and to bring clarity to developments.

This is the core genius of the play. When Neptune started this season with Romeo and Juliet, I wondered if it was just too late for Shakespeare. The players played well and the poetry did its thing, but after 400 years the language is almost impenetrable. I left the theatre feeling quite stupid. Enter Homer, the global village idiot. By putting such a celebrated moron at the centre of the play, Miller allows us the rare chance to not be ashamed by getting lost in Shakespeare. It’s the classic fish-out-of-water plot device – insert an outsider into a strange world and let the audience discover it through him. Homer struggles with the text and with the context and so we laugh at him, and then understand what’s happening.

The secondary level of genius is to remind us that in his heyday, Shakespeare was not an elitist, aloof, incomprehensible poet, but a bawdy man of the people who seamlessly mixed cerebral insights with slapstick comedy, delighting kings and peasants with his memorable phrases, cheap jokes and pop culture references. Shakespeare was his generation’s Simpsons. I left MacHomer with equal desire to read Macbeth and watch the Simpsons.

There are obvious laughs – Nelson popping up at regular intervals to “Ha ha!” at MacHomer – and very subtle ones, like the onscreen spectator who holds up a sign reading John 19:15. This is not the passage about God so loving the world that we see at sports games, but the mob yelling ‘Away with him,’ as Pilate tries Jesus. This is, I imagine, Miller’s cheeky joke at Shakespeare prudes who would boo him off the stage.

MacHomer is a fireball of energy, thick with jokes and ideas, a rich, roaring spectacle of overwhelming entertainment. It’s like playtime when you were a kid and commanded the full power of your imagination to turn plastic action figures into World War Three. You will leave the theatre delighted, and feeling slightly unhinged.

This dog can dance.

-30-

MacHomer is at Neptune Theatre until Feb. 13. Call 429-7070 or go to Neptunetheatre.com for tickets. 
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