Archeologists ask questions about a society from what is left behind. Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play asks what our culture may leave behind in a postapocalyptic world. Playwright Anne Washburn explores the aspects of our modern society that would survive the end of the world. And, throughout the first century of a new world, how a cultural phenomenon like The Simpsons would evolve.
Act I opens on a night encampment of apocalypse survivalists. Matt (Trey Gilpin), Jenny (Nicole Sumlin), Maria (Cathleen O’Malley), and Sam (Evan Thompson) deliver memorable performances hitting the comedy and managing the tragedy to perfection. The four are strangers, but connect over Simpson episode swapping. And, with the help of new companion, Gibson (Tim Keo) they eventually retell the Simpson episode “Cape Fear”.
The plot of this Simpson episode defines the following two acts, so the audience is barraged with details and “Cape Fear” references. From the first lines, Act I felt like an information dump for Act II and Act III. The dialogue, used to disclose thinly veiled foreshadowing, did not provide deeper insight into the characters or their postapocalyptic world.
Seven years have passed since Act I. The characters we met have been joined by Colleen (Beth Wood) and Quincy (Abigail Anika Svigelj). They have formed a travelling acting troupe performing Simpson episodes, complete with commercials. The Simpsons have become a commodity. The players compete with other troupes to buy lines of dialogue or scenes from whoever can remember. The characters act out the “Cape Fear” episode with some added parts, no doubt bought.
However, the play begins to stagnate in Act II. The character’s dress rehearsal of “Cape Fear” quickly begins to feel like an actual dress rehearsal. There is disconnect between the actors and the audience, and much of the humor falls flat.
Act III is set much further into the future, 75 years, and takes an entirely different form. The Simpsons episode “Cape Fear” has evolved into an Operatic Kabuki Theatrical performance. Costume designer, Inda BlatchGeib, creates an eerily horrific cast with Simpson masks and patchwork costumes made from preapocalypse relics.
The mythological tone of Act III was further enhanced with Edna Krabappel’s (Megan Elk) haunting arias narrating the heroic tale of “Cape Fear”. The play reached its climax in ingenuity and disposal of cultural norms. But, the climax lasted too long, and the audience grew bored.
Although there are many entertaining moments, the entirety of Mr. Burns is a slow tepid drawl to a magnetic finish.
When: February 11, 2016 March 05, 2016
Where: 7:30pm, Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon , Gordon Square Theatre
Photography by Steve Wagner