by Lynn on September 17, 2011

in The Passionate Playgoer

Why am I focusing on these two to review?

I picked MacHomer because it’s written and performed by Rick Miller, a multi-talented wild man of the theatre and is in fact one of three shows he will perform at the Factory Theatre over the next two months as part of Factory’s 2011-12 season.

I picked The Tale of a Town–Queen West because it’s a site-specific show about the Queen Street West neighbourhood around Theatre Passe Muraille, which is co-producing the play.

Both are original off the wall, performance pieces. MacHomer first.


At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace. Created and performed by Rick Miller. Directed by Sean Lynch. Lighting and stage design by Beth Kates. Costumes by Veronik Avery and Beth Kates. Sound by Rick Miller. Video design by Logograph.

Produced by WYRD Productions.

Imagine if the characters from The Simpsons television show performed Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Homer Simpson plays MacHomer. Marge Simpson plays Lady MacHomer Bart Simpson plays Fleance.

Now imagine that every single character is played by Rick Miller who also created the show, using an assortment of voices and accents, and he’s delivering a cut version of Shakespeare’s play.

He’s dressed in a kilt, socks, scuffed boots and a fitted long sleeve sweater. He’s aided by projections on a large screen behind him on stage. When a new character appears, a projection of the TV Simpsons character appears on the screen as Miller interacts with the screen and charges from character to character. It’s full of inside jokes about The Simpsons, and to some extent, Macbeth. Songs riff on what’s happening. Special effects burst out. Mayhem and silliness abound for the most part.

The Factory has billed this as a seasonal teaser. MacHomer opens the season followed by Bigger Than Jesus and how his story has been manipulated in some part over the years. And finally Hardsel about greed and commercialism.

These plays show the vast stretch of Miller’s imagination, humour, wit, depth of thought and sheer theatricality.

How did Miller come up with such a loopy idea of The Simpsons doing Macbeth?

He was playing the second murderer in a production of Macbeth in 1964 in Montreal and he got this idea of ‘what if’—(The Simpsons played all the parts in Macbeth) at the cast party. So MacHomer is really a party piece that was so successful Miller took it to festivals, and toured the world. He just got back from performing the show in New Zealand, cheering up the folks and taking their minds off the earthquakes and other disasters they have been experiencing.

I first saw the show 11 years ago in Winnipeg.

Ok, do you need to know who The Simpsons are for the show to work? You better believe it or all those voices and characters will mean nothing. I’m always in the theatre so I’ve never seen a complete show of The Simpsons but I know who Marge is and Homer etc.

Do you need to know Macbeth? Less so really. The most important thing is to know The Simpsons. You could tell who in the audience they are because they were laughing and the rest of us were just mystified. As I was 11 years ago.

But Miller is so inventive, energetic, wiry and kinetic it’s like watching a tornado do standup.

On opening night he had technical troubles, no the least of which was that the set didn’t arrive from New Zealand. He just used an old set of the show. There were loud pops during the show. The sound component was acting up and almost exploding in Miller’s face. He fixed that. He stopped the show, did patter and tried to find the problem and deal with humour and patience.

Ok Is this dumbing down an audience? And who is the audience for this show? It’s a send up—and a party piece in one. Certainly it’s for people who know and love The Simpsons. And from the looks of the audience, it’s for young people for the most part.

Miller explains that in Shakespeare’s day the people in ‘the Pit’ watching one of his plays at the Globe Theatre didn’t have television. He talks/sings about who this is for “Is it for purists—no it’s for tourists.” And it’s fun so what’s wrong with that?

Miller has such a wicked wit that is so perceptive that he has anticipated all the flack this romp of a show might expect and sent it up.

He overstays his welcome I thought and dissipated the effect by performing an encore of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as sung by 25 of the most annoying singers from The Rolling Stones to Leonard Cohen. This is another party piece but again Rick Miller performs it with charm, invention and breathtaking energy.

He’s a creative force to be reckoned with. Interestingly the Stratford Shakespeare Festival has programmed MacHomerfor next year’s 60th anniversary season.

The show has been around for 17 years and is playing a run in Toronto and no body at Stratford seems to be aware of that….did they think they were discovering Rick Miller…

But I digress.

From MacHomer to The Tale of A Town–Queen West.Beginning at Theatre Passe Muraille, Mainspace. Created and performed by Lisa Marie DiLiberto. Directed by Varrick Grimes. Set and costumes by Lindsay Anne Black. Lighting design by Michelle Ramsay. Sound and video design by Charles Ketchabaw. Musical direction by Treasa Levasseur. Projection design by Trevor Schwellnus.

Presented by Theatre Passe Muraille and FIXT POINT.

Theatre Passe Muraille is on Ryerson Ave. in the Bathurst-Queen area so it’s in the middle of this happening area.

The show is created and performed by Lisa Marie DiLiberto.

Lisa Marie DiLiberto and her team prepare the show by going around a neighbourhood interviewing people on the stories and characters of the neighbourhood and come up with a play about the area.

She’s done this before with other areas. She wants to save neighbourhoods from the sameness of the big-box store culture.

The Tale of a Town–Queen West is part performance art, part art instillation.

The impetus was the rebuilding of the area after the devastating fire that nearly destroyed the whole south block from Bathurst to Portland about three years ago.

The area was filled with funky shops in old creaky stores with lots and lots of stories about the characters in the area.

Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille took the translation of the theatre’s name seriously—‘through the wall’ and took the play through the wall and out of the theatre building proper.

We started at Theatre Passe Muraille. The ‘audience’ gathers in the theatre lobby and at ‘show time’ is taken outside to watch a mime perform to “Rise Up.” This sets the jolly tone.

Then a flamboyant, champagne swilling woman in a red suit and white wig led us on a tour of the alleyways and byways of the area from the theatre to Queen Street West.

She informs us that the area had been home to boozy musicians, artists, and bohemians for about three decades. She mentions the Cameron House, the Rivoli etc. This whole section is done in rhyming couplets. Molière anyone?

She presents herself as a rental agent of sorts eho will be taking us to the spiffy, new
lofts that are going up in the area. We are headed for the Champagne Flaming Feather
Eco Boho Legend Lofts way above a bicycle shop, the legendary Duke’s Cycle where
the rest of the show will unfold.

Once at the lofts we are treated to a space that is at once a modern loft with a ‘beautiful’ concrete floor and all the modern amenities—we get a window and a sink. For a lot of money.

One section of this loft is full of racks of vintage clothing. This is a vintage clothing store about to give way to gentrification, Our guide here is Jane, the proprietor of the clothing show—the real estate lady has disappeared. Jane appears from inside a locked trunk. Her banging got out attention but only one brave soul in the audience came forward to open the trunk and let Jane out.

The space also has sections that reveal a folk club and an art gallery. It’s a terrific accomplishment of imagination and design.

Jane recalls her hippy years and tells us stories in the druggy-boozy days before the big box stores began moving in.

Coincidentally yesterday when the show opened, was also the opening of the huge Winners and Loblaws store on Queen and Portland.

What with so much to take in does it work as theatre?

Partially. Some of he stories about the area and people are fascinating.

The creation of the loft space is terrific with videos revealing bits of the history of the area—The Hummer Sisters running for Mayor. J.D. Roberts with a full head of bushy hair reports from City Hall for City TV. There is that funny stuff you get when you buy a Loft—that window and sink. The vintage clothing store with racks and racks of clothes is fascinating.

There is a deliberate ragged quality to the piece.

The press information says it plays out like a scrapbook.

Fair enough.

But that somehow makes it seem unfinished and I think that works against Lisa Marie DiLiberto.

And if you weren’t a denizen of Queen West or moved in those circles in the 80s, 90s etc. then a lot of the names of the people or designer don’t mean a thing. The show then takes on a kind of insider feel to it, leaving a lot of people out side wondering who and what Jane is talking about.

There is a balance that has to be attained between telling the story of the place and not making it too insider that only some in the audience will appreciate.

I do love the fact that in that opening night audience, there were a lot of young people.

I am glad I saw both shows and Lisa Marie DiLiberto will make me look harder when I go down a laneway in that area, wondering who lived there, what happened behind that door etc.

MacHomer runs at the Factory Theater until September 25.

The Tale of a Town—Queen West runs at its site specific venue until October 9.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.