Mr. Burns: A post-electric play
By Anne Washburn
Directed by Gil Reyes
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2015 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Why do we go to the theater? To be entertained? Sure. To think? You bet. To be challenged and confused? Oh yes. In Gil Reyes’ director’s notes for Theater ’s Mr. Burns: A post-electric play, he urges the audience to “take in the big picture and let it illuminate something inside you.” Having read that after seeing the play, I have to admit the overall message became clearer. This is a challenging piece of theater, unlike the run of the mill musicals and comedies so often performed around Louisville, which makes it just that much more important.
In what may seem like three very random and coarsely threaded acts, the script explores what makes a culture. Using the well known animated series, The Simpsons, as a sort of framework, we as an audience peer into what would happened if civilization had to rebuild itself from square one. The first act opens with Matt (Kyle Ware) and fellow survivors of a nuclear apocalypse sitting around a fire remembering episodes of The Simpsons, particularly an entire episode lampooning Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear. Throughout the entire act, the characters regale each other with remembrances of jokes, one-liners and sight gags from the highly quotable series. Even though these characters talk about the Simpsons, it is the oral tradition that really takes focus. These are characters that have been left with nothing but the items in their backpacks and their weapons to protect them in the wilderness. In recalling an episode of The Simpsons, they are not only forgetting the dangers and hardships they’ve faced, they slowly reconstruct their community.
The second act occurs seven years later. Here we see progress in rebuilding the culture yet the effects of the nuclear disasters remain evident and ever present. Gibson, played with reserved strength by Brian Hinds, delivers an emotional outburst, revealing that within the seven years things have gone from bad to worse. In this act, the ensemble is showcased in a rehearsal for an upcoming theatrical production. Pop music numbers are thrown together in random medley, costumes and set pieces are haphazardly put into place while the episodes that were once re-told over an open fire have now become a new form of theater. As the audience sits in this half filled theater, we are never quite sure if we should be laughing, entertained or where the plot is going. The familiarity of The Simpsons may provide a certain amount of comfort while watching this new media-less media unveil before our eyes.
Mr. Burns concludes with that one-act play after the intermission. Here the Cape Fear-inspired episode is transformed into a fully realized Greek tragedy complete with chorus and masque. Tamara Dearing plays Bart as a young hero facing his own mortality under the threat of Zachary Burrell’s Mr. Burns. Dearing taps into Bart’s mischievous nature while bringing out a quality of bravery in the character that is often overlooked. Here the characters we have grown to love are involved in a tragedy where death is on the line, Mr. Burns is a sword wielding villain and Bart is a symbol of hope and endurance. Through the three acts, The Simpsons have transformed from an iconic, cartoon sitcom into Greek myth.
Frankly speaking, if you are only going to see this play because you think it’s about The Simpsons, then you have another thing coming.
Mr. Burns: a post-electric play
February 20, 21, 23, 27, 28, 2015 @ 8pm
2117 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40206
[box_light]Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for Leo Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading![/box_light]