MacHomer is at Cal Shakes This Week Only

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday August 04, 2010 - 09:34:00 PM

For the remainder of this week Canadian actor Rick Miller is in town reprising his one-man, many-character, comic farce “MacHomer” at the California Shakespeare Theater in Orinda. If you are a “Simpsons” fan it’s a do not miss production. 

At the opening show Tuesday night Miller gave a trademark energetic and inspired send-up of “MacBeth”, his version retaining much of the Shakespearean dialogue and plot but casting characters from the animated, subversive, TV comedy “The Simpsons”. 

Miller, who shifts between voices and personas with uncanny ease and energy, fits vocal and physical impersonations of more than 50 “Simpsons” characters into his cast. There are also cameos by Jesus, God, Kermit the Frog (de-legged at one point), Sean Connery, and several others from the world outside the “The Simpsons.”  

The show has been updated from the first time I saw it at the Berkeley Rep. a few years ago. “MacHomer” now includes Barack Obama and “South Park” allusions in its current cultural references.  

Miller has also incorporated several small, entertaining, song medleys, to punctuate the plot and a sidesplitting Simpsons puppet recap of the first act, projected live on the backdrop. 

He finishes off the show with an encore of “Bohemian Rhapsody” sung with his interpretations of the “25 most annoying voices” in modern entertainment. 

The characters also lapse out of MacBeth purism into other Shakespearean tropes. “To beer or not to beer?” MacHomer muses. 

Ironically, Miller’s Homer Simpson / Thane MacHomer is one of his slightly weaker characterizations, but he does Marge Simpson, Montgomery Burns, Ned Flanders, Krusty the Clown, Barney Gumble, and others so well it doesn’t really matter.  

The group “casting” is especially inspired. The three witches, for example, are bar-owner Moe Szyslak, the Sea Captain, and Principal Seymour Skinner, unlikely peas in a black kettle pod who actually play off each other to perfection. 

As Miller—clad in kilt and chainmail, face shiny with sweat—does the voices live, either on the stage or from behind a podium shaped like a television, “Simpsons” imagery is projected on a screen behind him, adding its own visual comedy.  

McDuff (loveable, pitiable, barfly Barney Gumble) lives in a fortress with towers made of Simpsonesque Duff Beer cans; King Duncan (Simpsons nefarious plutocrat C. Montgomery Burns) reigns from a castle topped by twin nuclear cooling towers. The Simpson—I’m sorry, MacHomer—medieval manse has an attached three-car garage. 

It’s “a one joke concept stretched into a play”, as one of the characters says. I realize it sounds very odd, but it’s very, very, funny. You may well be hoarse from hilarity by the end. 

Millers’ versatile talent and performance energy reminds me a bit of Geoff Hoyle, familiar to locals through his leading, many-character, performances at the holiday California Revels. 

A piece of advice. Think twice about going if you’re not familiar with “The Simpsons”. The allusions, jokes, and impersonations come so thick and fast—often in just a moment’s time—that you’ll be completely bewildered if you haven’t seen and absorbed a fair number of episodes of the TV show. 

If you have, you may well be laughing from start to finish of the two act, but non-stop, performance. 

Here’s a little test. Match the following characters with the following expressions. 


Montgomery Burns, Nelson Muntz, Captain McCallister, Homer, Ned Flanders. 


D’oh! Do diddly do! Excellent! Argggghh! HA! HA! 


If you could easily attach at least four of those characters to their trademark sayings, this show should be comprehensible to you. 

Give yourself an extra point if you’ve lived in the East Bay long enough to remember when Simpsons creator Matt Groening was not known for his TV hit, but for his “Life in Hell” comics in the East Bay Express. 

The show is in the Bruns Amphitheater, the CalShakes home, just beyond the Caldecott Tunnel on the warm side of the Berkeley Hills. Bring your own snacks if you like. Picnic areas—and a well-stocked café—adjoin the outdoor performance space.  

Painting-perfect golden hills touched with the low evening sun and eucalyptus and oak groves frame the setting. If you don’t drive, there’s a shuttle from the Orinda BART station. 

Performances take place at 8:00 pm every evening through this Saturday. There’s a special finale second performance at 10:30 on Saturday as well. 

The Tuesday audience seemed pretty close to capacity, but as of this writing the CalShakes website showed “Good” availability for tickets later in the week, except for Friday when tickets were listed as “Limited”. 

Tickets are $35 and $30. For this show, lawn chairs are provided for free on the upper terraces. Bring warm outer clothing layers, and a blanket if you like, since the evenings can cool down.  

If you can’t navigate the on-line ticket system, call (510) 548-9666 after 10:00 am for a live ticket agent. 

You can link through the MacHomer website to the CalShakes ticket page. 

The Miller send-up also functions as something of a local prelude to a serious CalShakes production of the real “Macbeth” coming up August 18-September 12.