“Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” funny if not a little confusing

Theater Pops presented Anne Washburn’s dark comedy entitled, “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” in the IDL Ballroom downtown last Friday. The evening began with a unique fusion of an intimate, candlelit table and “Simpsons” themed cocktails being offered at the bar. After everyone took their seats, the play began in the middle of the room on a raised surface, then moved to the front stage for the rest of the performance. IDL proved to be a good venue for an unconventional play.
The play itself gave me mixed feelings, although the plot depended on a fascinating and unique premise: a vaguely nuclear disaster caused the apocalypse, and people started clinging to live-action episodes of “The Simpsons” for entertainment, even using memorized quotes as a type of currency. The beginning, though engaging and well-written, started off a little too slow, with dialogue that seemed to go on past due time. The post-apocalyptic setting illustrated by the opening act left nothing to be desired, but it seemed that the first act could have faster pacing in order to create that setting. The narrative and setting were nearly lost in the characters’ need to remember details of a Simpsons episode for a little too long.
The second act included fully developed characters, many of which returning from the first act, and surprisingly seamless transition from Armageddon survivors sitting around a campfire to the core of the play’s action. The third act left me a little confused.
The depth of the play is unquestionable; it asked many profound questions about the nature of entertainment, the importance of reality in storytelling and the moral quandaries of clinging to past happenings and cultures past their death. However, the play’s depth and artistic flair seemed to overshadow its entertainment value towards the end. When the characters came in wearing hoods to enact the final version of a “Simpsons” episode reconstructed from various strangers’ memories, it verged on uncomfortable more than intriguing.
While the play was fun but not perfect, the acting was superb. Each actor or actress brought out their character perfectly. The rag-tag group of survivors were brought to life in a way that made them seem both real to each other, and real to the audience. The actor playing Mr. Burns at the end exuded everything brilliantly maniacal, frighteningly true and sadly accurate. His laughing haunted me and his singing enraptured me. I was very impressed with their work.
Another positive attribute of the play lies in their references to “The Simpson.” No one has to be more than vaguely familiar with the show. While true fans may get a few hidden references, anybody who has never seen a single episode all the way through could still enjoy the play. Given that the play was set in the future and spread out over three different times, it seems that another layer of the play was simply the timelessness of the cartoon family itself. The play specifically referenced a single episode that most of the audience probably had never seen, yet the material seemed quite accessible. It gives a testament for the persistence of “The Simpsons” in American pop culture. At the end of the night, though I found a few things I did not enjoy in the play, the experience was a great one. Theater Pops did not disappoint: a different play could indeed showcase their talent to its fullest. I sincerely look forward to their next performance, “Assassins,” which runs from Feb. 8–18, 2018.

Post Author: Brennen Gray