Review: MR. BURNS Brings Fiction to Reality in a Bright New Light at Cape Rep

By: Sep. 21, 2015
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There are few shows I have seen that have left me basically speechless, without some sort of comment about how the play's storyline made me think about a certain topic in a new way, or how such a new production sprang forth from the mere mention of an overdone classic, brining something more brilliant than a simple revival to expectant an expectant audience. Well, what happens when a show is neither a revival, nor does it have a simple, straightforward plot that allows a person time to think about the themes involved or the feelings that make audiences feel a character's pain or pleasure? What happens when the audience is, instead, trying to figure out what is going on, in general, as a story begins to take place but then heads in a completely different direction?

There are many different purposes to a show, brought forth by playwrights with sometimes traditional, sometimes eclectic ideas which result in wonderfully unique plays and musicals; yet, I cannot with all my heart say that I have ever seen anything like what is being performed at Cape Rep this very moment. Watching his particular show had a bit of a whirlwind effect on me, to say the least, and I am still trying to identify what, exactly, I felt when while experiencing such a performance. Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, having its regional premiere in the town of Brewster, dazzled me, admittedly confused me greatly, scared me, made me wonder, made me feel like watching a Simpsons episode, made me wonder why villains seem so idolized, and basically, made me think about how such an idea for a play/semi-musical could ever have been brought about and be presented in such a fascinating way. Even I, with an English degree and a love for words, cannot really begin to explain the different effect this show has on each audience member fortunate enough to see it.

Written by Anne Washburn (who is also the show's lyricist) with a score by Michael Friedman and hereby directed by Philip Hays, Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play makes its appearance on Cape Cod following a successful run at Playwrights' Horizons in New York, and can now begin surprising audiences all over again with its current run. Taking a first glance at the show's poster, one can get a vague idea of what this show is actually about. There are people huddled around what looks like a campfire, their seated forms casting shadows that resemble what appear to be characters from the widely popular cartoon, The Simpsons; only then is the connection made between what Washburn's show might be about and the use of Mr. Burns' name as the titular focus. It seems odd to base an entire show on The Simpsons, but what is even more mind-boggling is how only the workings of a playwright's mind can turn the characters and themes of a cartoon into something more profound and fascinating enough for an audience to simply get by simply accepting and experiencing what is to come. It really isn't a show with a beginning, middle and end, with an expected or anticipated ending or a character's progression from one act to the next. This is a progression of one theme that seems to get a group of people without electric power, who are constantly on the move, to do more than pass the time - they are living vicariously through something they can only have through a bit of mind power.

Mr. Burns begins in the near future, lights up on a few people sitting around the warmth of what seems to be a campfire. Most of them seem actively engaged in this rather random conversation about The Simpsons, and from the way they allude to the show as if it is a thing of the past, the audience soon realizes that it, along with everything that requires electricity, IS actually a thing of the past. Due to the destruction of many nuclear power plants, electric power has disappeared and with it all that which relied on it, including the broadcast of The Simpsons, which this group has a particular fascination with. With what begins as a simple mention of the popular cartoon, the group progresses into this rather lengthy conversation (delayed because of their inability to remember the exact sequence and lines of the episode they wish to recreate through memory alone) of the show that turns into more than a simple TV indulgence: it becomes the basis of whatever happens next. The lives of the characters, aside from the people each is in search for, are fundamentally irrelevant, and instead they try to get on with their lives with the constant need to be just like the Simpsons. From shooting commercials using contemporary hit songs to fearing for their lives, worried that someone in this free-for-all, post electric world will destroy them, and finally to a morality battle between the Simpson family and the treacherous Mr. Burns (who so happens to be the devil, but who knew?), there is just no telling what the heck is going to happen.

Accompanied by a rather catchy bunch of songs that do well to fit the circumstances of the play, heightening the suspense and excitement of what is happening, the show is really beyond anything that is rational and does not really have any definite plan as to what it seeks to show the audience. Yet, one can tell that the plot was so thoroughly thought about and so meticulously planned, that the random and unexpected nature of the show is just beautiful in itself. I must say that, as I was watching the show, I was constantly at attention because just figuring out how one moment connects to the next is a mental exercise in itself, but the themes are there and have only to be sought out and understood. This is a show that requires a bit of digesting after watching, as what it brings forth is not really easily grasped. It is an adventure, to say the least, that will leave you wondering with all your might what can possibly come next, but one knows with certainty that it has something to do with The Simpsons. The battles fought between love and hate, with a repentant Bart wishing to have everyone he thought he could live without by his side again, brings about questions of how the second act, in all its clashing sword-talk of morality, relates to the post-electric nature of a world that cannot seem real.

And there is the start of a wonderful journey into what once called itself television.

So, if you're in the mood for a show that is not "entertaining" or "funny" but instead riveting, thought-provoking and just completely different than anything that could possibly be seen on stage, funny enough without being considered anywhere near absurd, consider going to Cape Rep tonight to see Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play. It has a wonderful cast that includes Greg Cote, Alison Weller*, Laura Baranik, Art Devine, Elissa Levitt, Carey Scott, Maura Hanlol and Jo Brisbane, and music brought to you by pianist Todd Olson. The costumes are colorful and wacky, the set very impressive to behold, and all this together made Mr. Burns something to look forward to...unless the power goes out.

Mr. Burns began its run at Cape Rep (located at 3299 Rte. 6A in Brewster) on September 17th, and will continue performances thru October 18th. The performance schedule is as follows: Wednesdays and Thursdays @ 7:00, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00 and Sundays @ 2:00. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased by visiting the box office, by calling (508).896.1888 or through Parking is available on site.

Enjoy the show!

Photo Credit: Bob Tucker/Focalpoint Studio

*Denotes a member of Actors' Equity


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