BWW Review: Surreal MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY
Mr. Burns, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY takes place in the near future, and then further into the future, and then way into the future as entertainment as we knew it becomes increasingly distorted and warped seemingly via a century long game of telephone. It's a play that analyzing will just leave a person more discombobulated, so it's probably best to just strap in any enjoy the ride. Regardless of whether or not you understand it, you will come away thoroughly entertained by the phenomenal cast and skillful music direction of Wilbury favorite David Tessier. The Wilbury Theatre Group are masters of the strange and unexpected, and even if the audience can't completely grasp what's going on, the cast has everything handled, so that it's best to just sit in their thrall and trust that we're all going to make it out ok.
Act I begins in the near future, after something bad has happened. There are mentions of destroyed cities and displaced people, but nothing more specific. Instead, people sit around a fire and recount the Cape Feare episode of The Simpsons. The first act does get a little bogged down in the re-telling, because listening to people recount episodes of tv shows or movies is inherently tedious, but it's necessary to lay a foundation for the future events to come. Acts II and III take place seven years and 75 years after Act I where the audience really starts to see what becomes important after the cultural record is destroyed and society reverts back to the oral tradition. People perform commercials, act out episodes of The Simpsons and dance to mashups of popular songs. Essentially, The Simpsons becomes like Shakespeare, where none of the performers have seen it as it originally was, but it is changed and morphed into something recognizable, but very different.
A show of this kind needs to have a cast that are talented, charismatic and also fully on board with whatever bizarre turns the script takes. Thankfully, we have that here, and every single cast member has a critical role to play. Each character has a name, but since the action of this play keeps moving into the future, and they're all actors playing actors playing parts, names are somewhat irrelevant. In Act III, when the cast give us a full-scale Simpsons episode, with a twist, Dajara Hinds shines as and shows off an excellent singing voice as Bart and Phoenyx Williams menaces appropriately as Mr. Burns. Sarah Leach and Jennifer Mischley get fantastic wigs/ headpieces as Marge and Lisa Simpson, and Jeff Hodge's Homer Simpson bald cap is just great.
This is a play that is hard to describe, since it's all over the map in terms of story. Instead, it just leaves you with a feeling of bafflement and wonder. Is this what the future will look like? Does it even matter? What the hell did I just watch? The audience becomes part of the story as well, though thankfully not in any kind of audience participation way, but rather at the beginning of each act, the actors rearrange the audience's orientation to have us in prime position to view their latest pop culture interpretation. Mr. Burns is a collection of sensations and delights that will leave you reeling but eager for more.
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play runs March 16-April 1 at Wilbury Theatre Group, 393 Broad Street, Providence RI tickets are available at thewilburygroup.org or by calling 401-400-7100.
Photo by Maggie Hall.