Review: Mr. Burns, a post-electric play

Written by Anne Washburn

Music by Michael Friedman

Lyrics by Anne Washburn

Directed by Robbie Dryer

Produced by Miranda Bowron and Keely Olstad 

Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play premiered in 2012 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, in Washington, DC. The story follows a group of survivors brought together by an apocalyptic event as they attempt to recollect an episode of The Simpsons, to ground themselves in this new and dark reality. Playwright Anne Washburn was interested in exploring what happens to pop culture after the fall of humanity, and director Robbie Dryer further explores the essentiality of storytelling in this KTS production.

There’s not much I can say without giving too much away, so you’ll have to bear with me as I try to describe what I can. The scene opens with the group seated in a semi-circle around some candles, attempting to comfort themselves by recollecting an episode of The Simpsons.

You’ll notice that the set is simple: a white sheet backdrop and some scavenged seating. Before the play begins and during its interludes, clips from The Simpsons are projected onto the sheet, which help give you some indication of where this play is going. The minimal set (by Anna Hickey and Noah Harrison) conveys the scarcity of this gloomy new world, and the lighting (by Jack Sarick) emitted from only the candles enhances the atmospheric illusion of open space.

The costumes (by Keely Olstad and Ghislaine Sinclair) complimented the setting in the first Act, and the use of blacks in the second Act were suitable to the changing scenes. 

The final Act is a thunderous end to the play, complete with thrilling lighting choices and use of black light and corresponding glowing costume pieces. In addition to engaging audiences, the lighting choices and use of masks enhance the theme of the play, and clearly indicate the development of theatre technology in this new civilization.

The story progresses in time, portraying how the characters recall and adapt pop culture to comfort themselves and instill the spirit to persist in these difficult times. This group of otherwise dissimilar individuals are all connected by the common thread of pop culture and work together in order to hang on to what little they have left from the civilization they once knew. Best put by Robbie, “this play is a strange and unpredictable journey, but it points at something essential in the human experience. We need stories to survive: to orient ourselves to the world and validate our experiences.”

Running from now until Saturday, Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a funny and intriguing prediction of the transition of pop culture following the collapse of civilization. Although it is a busy time of year, I encourage you to take a break from studying and enjoy the final KTS production of the Fall season.