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article imageReview: ‘Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play’ cleverly brightens the darkness Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 19, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play’ is a little light on ‘The Simpsons’ content, but still a very inventive and entertaining adaptation of the beloved TV show.
A lot has been said in post-apocalyptic narratives about the loss of classic and highly regarded literature, art and film. But what of the remnants of culture that will survive? And the re-emergence of oral histories? Who’s to say popular culture will not find its own place within the newly formed zeitgeist. We live in a world obsessed with the fall of civilization and the violence that will accompany it. But there has to be someone out there trying to retain some sense of normalcy from the past. In Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, playwright Anne Washburn contemplates a society that clings to one of the few artifacts collectively engrained in most people’s memories — The Simpsons.
The Outside the March production takes Washburn’s script one step further by performing it “without the use of any on-the-grid power.” The play implies a disaster has wiped out all of the country’s electricity and an expanding portion of its population. Therefore, during the show, everything is powered by natural elements, brute force and batteries where necessary. The small troupe plays multiple parts throughout the narrative, taking on a new personality in each segment of the show. From the outset this production already sounds unique and it becomes even more eccentric with each subsequent act.
The play is divided into three acts. The first occurs shortly after the apocalyptic event. A ragtag group of survivors are attempting to recount the “Cape Feare” parody episode from season five of The Simpsons in which Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart after he’s paroled. One guy leads the narration, jumping back and forth within the show’s timeline when they remember some other part of the hilarious plot. As they mix up the details or omit certain scenes, diehard fans will be tempted to shout corrections in the tiny theatre; but the performance is actually an accurate portrayal of how our memories work and how this type of group recall occurs — imprecisely.
The second act takes place seven years after the first. Nostalgia for the longest running animated show on television has become a commodity. People now make a living competing with other troupes, performing episodes from the famed series as best they remember and including live commercials. This section demonstrates the survival of capitalism as companies with more capital are able to put on better quality shows, gradually putting their competition out of business. They also re-imagine a couple of the best scenes from the “Cape Feare” episode, complete with character costumes and old school sound effects; and perform a wild mash-up, sampling songs from a number of genres, including disco, R&B, pop, rap and rock.
The third and final act is set 75 years later. Not much is seen of everyday life, except that The Simpsons has endured for nearly a century after discontinuation. Above even the highest ranked form of entertainment, the series has actually become entwined in the population’s origin story. In a bizarre twist, Mr. Burns now hunts Bart on a houseboat with the help of his minions, Itchy and Scratchy. This is probably the most challenging act of the play, particularly since misunderstanding the purpose of this section can cause it to simply look as if it’s gone off the rails — the Cirque du Soleil representation of Burns is entertaining, but undoubtedly contributes to this interpretation. Still, the unconventional incorporation of lyrics from Britney Spears, Eminem and H.M.S. Pinafore is impressive.
Even though this is often dubbed “The Simpsons play,” audiences should realize the show’s integration into the narrative becomes less direct with each act. In addition, there is a lot of popular music also worked into the last two acts, which is generally amusing and makes the play somewhat of a musical. Whether singing, reciting scenes from the television show or portraying life in a post-electric future, the unfaltering actors are all very capable and seemingly faultless.
A final note on seating: the first two rows include couches and those seated in this area are invited to participate in the last act. Also, some of the action occurs in the aisles from about the midpoint of the theatre to the back, so those nearer the front will need to crane their necks to see what’s happening.
Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play is playing in Toronto at the “historic Aztec theatre,” a.k.a. the Projection Booth.
More about Mr Burns A Post Electric Play, Outside the March, canadian stage, Review, The Simpsons
 
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