Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play **

Your reaction to Anne Washburn’s innovative play, now in previews at Playwrights Horizons, may hinge on whether you are an avid fan of the animated TV series The Simpsons. Your familiarity with the characters will give you a head start in appreciating the plot. Washburn uses this popular cartoon series to show the important role pop culture plays in binding our society together. Much of the action focuses on an episode from the series’s fifth season called “Cape Feare,” a spoof of the twice-made Hollywood thriller. During the first act, survivors of a recent nuclear disaster sit around a campfire and pass the time by remembering lines from the show. In the second act, set seven years later, rival bands of roving performers survive by reenacting episodes from TV shows, complete with commercials. In the third act, set 75 years later, we see a stylized version of the “Cape Feare” episode in music and verse, presented as an inspirational pageant. The play was commissioned by The Civilians, a self-styled center for investigative theater; most of the cast (Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Susannah Flood, Gibson Frazier, Matthew Maher, Nedra McClyde, Jennifer R. Morris, Colleen Worthmann, Sam Breslin Wright) are associate artists of the group and director Steve Cosson is their artistic director. The play is enlivened by Michael Friedman’s music and Sam Pinkleton’s choreography. Neil Patel’s sets and Emily Rebholz’s costumes hit the mark. There is a terrific two-part theatrical effect at play’s end. I wish the first two acts were tightened up a bit: it’s a long slog to intermission and a smattering of people did not return. The final act ties many loose ends together, but it’s a long wait to get there. In case you were wondering, Mr. Burns is the name of Homer Simpson’s boss, the owner of the nuclear power plant responsible for the disaster. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.

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