BWW Reviews: MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY with The Catamounts in Boulder
Society seems so focused on current pop culture; it's difficult to imagine what may happen to it after an apocalyptic event. Boulder theatre company The Catamounts explores that in their current production, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn.
Directed by Catamounts Co-Founder Amanda Berg Wilson, the story begins after a catastrophic electricity failure (hence post-electric) causes nuclear plants to shut down, contaminating surrounding areas and killing off most of the population. A group of survivors gather and recall an episode of The Simpsons, "Cape Feare," which spoofed the classic movie and its remake. In it, Bart Simpson is being stalked by Sideshow Bob, who is bent on killing him.
Flash-forward 7 years in act 2, and the group has formed a performance troupe that reenacts episodes of The Simpsons along with live commercials. The final act is 75 years later, featuring different characters portraying a more elaborate, musical performance of the same episode.
Mr. Burns is a fairly new work, which made its Off-Broadway premiere just a year ago. Kudos to The Catamounts for jumping on this one.
The first act was real and raw; survivors sitting around a campfire, trying to lighten the mood with a memory of an old cartoon. You could sense their fear of the current world, and the prevailing yet decreasing hope of what's to come. Their conversation was organic as they tried to recall their memories of the episode.
What I loved about this show was its smart examination of how society might react to the apocalypse in regards to art and the need to create and remember pop culture. Also, how people grasp to nostalgia as a comfort, especially when it's no longer as readily available. The troupe's live commercials were not selling a product, they sold a familiar experience-a hot bath, a gourmet sandwich, a glass of Chablis.
One moment in act 2 featured an impressive and fun mashup of chart-topping music, like Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" and Eminem's "Lose Yourself." The choreography flowed nicely from one song to the next, and it was a nice individual showcase of each ensemble member's vocals.
While act 2 was a enjoyable introduction to the ensemble's broad range of acting talent, the mostly musical final act really showcased the variety of comic abilities in the cast. It was interesting to see how the storyline of the Simpson's episode had been skewed over 75 years. For example, Sideshow Bob was now Mr. Burns, with Itchy and Scratchy as his henchmen.
The cast consisted of 8 actors portraying nearly 30 roles. It included Catamounts company members Joan Bruemmer-Holden, Meridith C. Grundei, Jason Maxwell and Ben Berg Wilson along with Mark Collins, Curtiss Johns, Laura Lounge and Mackenzie Paulsen.
The way The Simpsons characters were brought to life in costumes, designed by Annabel Reader, was enchanting and inventive...also slightly eerie with their exaggerated features and large eye sockets. The scenic design, by Sarah Peters, was simple yet effective, using resources that would be available after a catastrophe. The lighting, by Erika Kate, was haunting at moments and cartoony when it needed to be.
While the show's nearly 2-hour runtime with a very brief entr'acte was constantly entertaining, I did feel as though some parts weren't entirely necessary to the show's movement. Act 2 began a little slow with the troupe performing a commercial, but you quickly realize what's going on and you're back in the story. It was interesting to remember what this society no longer had and what they were trying to accomplish.
For the performance I attended, there was a pre-show themed drink (Before: An Electric Cocktail) as well as a community meal following the performance, featuring a Mr. Burns-inspired beer (Moe's American Cream Ale) crafted by Boulder's Wildwoods Brewery. Food was provided by Denver-based American Grind Food truck, with nostalgic selections like their Big Mac, a corn dog and veggie nuggets.
I love how the Catamounts offers this. It's a great way to tie into the show's theme while incorporating and promoting local businesses. The community meal, coordinated by Lauren Shepard and designed by Stephanie Waddell of Agnes & Hoss, allows you to dine with other audience members and discuss their reactions to the show.
Mr. Burns is one of those shows that reignites something in you. It makes you want to create, and you take a deeper look at society's attraction to performing arts. Even in a post-apocalyptic culture, people will always find a way to do their craft.
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play continues at Boulder's Dairy Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16, and Friday, Oct. 17. Saturday, Oct. 18, begins at 7 p.m. and includes a pre-show cocktail and a post-show community meal. For tickets, visit www.thecatamounts.org.
Photos by Michael Ensminger