|Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play|
The poster for the original off-Broadway production at Playwrights Horizons
|Written by||Anne Washburn|
|Date premiered||May 2012|
|Place premiered||Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington, D.C.|
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (officially stylized Mr. Burns, a post-electric play) is an American dark comedy play written by Anne Washburn and featuring music by Michael Friedman. It premiered in May 2012 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and then ran from August through October 2013 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. Mr. Burns tells the story of a group of survivors recalling and retelling "Cape Feare", an episode of the TV show The Simpsons, shortly after a global catastrophe, then examines the way the story has changed seven years after that, and finally, 75 years later. It received polarized reviews and was nominated for a 2014 Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.
Shortly after an unspecified apocalyptic event, a group of survivors gather together and begin to attempt to recount the episode "Cape Feare" of the television show The Simpsons. The second act picks up with the same group seven years later, who have now formed a theatrical troupe that specializes in performing Simpsons episodes, with commercials and all. The final act is set an additional 75 years in the future. The same episode of The Simpsons, now a familiar myth, has been reworked into a musical pageant, with the story, characters, and morals repurposed to fit the artistic and dramatic needs of a culture still reeling from destruction of civilization and the near-extinction of humanity decades earlier.
|Character(s)||Original off-Broadway cast||Original D.C. cast|
|Quincy, Businesswoman, Bart 2||Quincy Tyler Bernstine||Erika Rose|
|Susannah, Lisa 1, Second F.B.I. Agent, Itchy||Susannah Flood||Jenna Sokolowski|
|Gibson, Loving Husband, Sideshow Bob, Homer 2||Gibson Frazier||Chris Genebach|
|Matt, Homer 1, Scratchy||Matthew Maher||Steve Rosen|
|Nedra, Edna Krabappel||Nedra McClyde|
|Jenny, Marge||Jennifer R. Morris||Kimberly Gilbert|
|Colleen, First F.B.I. Agent, Lisa 2||Colleen Werthmann||Amy McWilliams|
|Sam, Bart 1, Mr. Burns||Sam Breslin Wright||James Sugg|
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play was written by Anne Washburn. For a long time, she had been exploring what it would be like "to take a TV show and push it past the apocalypse and see what happened to it" and while she originally considered Friends, Cheers, and M*A*S*H, she ultimately settled on The Simpsons. Working with The Civilians theater company who had commissioned the play, Washburn held a workshop for a week in a bank vault beneath Wall Street which was being used as a shared rehearsal space in 2008 to see how much of any episode of The Simpsons the actors she had assembled, including Matthew Maher, Maria Dizzia, and Jennifer R. Morris, could remember. Maher knew The Simpsons well and the group decided on the 1993 episode "Cape Feare", based on the 1991 film Cape Fear, itself a remake of an eponymous 1962 film which is based on the 1957 novel The Executioners. He helped Dizzia and Morris remember the episode, then the two of them went on to perform it for an audience without his help; Washburn subsequently utilized recordings of this process in writing her play's first act.
The play, a dark comedy, was premiered in May 2012 at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company It was commissioned by The Civilians and developed in partnership with them, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Playwrights Horizons. It was directed by Steve Cosson who got confirmation from several lawyers that the play fell under the umbrella of fair use. Cosson also directed the New York City production at Playwrights Horizons that premiered on September 15, 2013. Maher and Morris, who had not appeared in the Woolly Mammoth production, returned for the New York staging. At Playwrights, the show ran until October 20, 2013. Samuel French, Inc. published the show's script and licenses productions of the show.
Washburn continued to revise the play for its European premiere at the Almeida Theatre in London in Spring 2014, and a new draft was published by Oberon Books. It was directed by Robert Icke, who commissioned Orlando Gough to compose a new acapella score for the third act. The London production was visually and emotionally darker than the New York one, especially in its third act which resembled Greek tragedy as much as The Simpsons.
It provoked an extremely divided reaction from British critics, responses veering from one to five stars.
|Character(s)||Original London cast|
|Maria, Lisa||Annabel Scholey|
|Gibson, Itchy||Demetri Goritsas|
|Matt, Homer||Adrian der Gregorian|
|Quincy, Marge||Wunmi Mosaku|
|Colleen, Bart||Jenna Russell|
|Sam, Mr Burns||Michael Schaeffer|
|Jenny, Scratchy||Justine Mitchell|
In Time, Richard Zoglin characterized the reaction to the show as receiving "some rave reviews, a few equally passionate dissents and sellout crowds." Ben Brantley of The New York Times compared Mr. Burns to Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century book The Decameron in which a group of Italian youths have fled the Black Death to a villa where they begin to exchange stories. "At the end of Steve Cosson's vertiginous production, which opened on Sunday night at Playwrights Horizons, you’re likely to feel both exhausted and exhilarated from all the layers of time and thought you've traveled through", wrote Brantley. Reviewing for Vulture, Scott Brown found "Cape Feare" to be "a perfect palimpsest" and commended the ending musical number as "equal parts Brecht and Bart, Homer and the other Homer".
In his otherwise positive review, Brown noted that the play's "flabby middle act could use some tightening, to better dramatize Washburn’s talky deepthink." Marilyn Stasio wrote for Variety that the "piece loses sight of its humanity with an overproduced pop-rap-operetta in the underplotted second act". The Huffington Post's David Finkle felt that the play "could be contained in a 15-minute skit--if not quite a 140-character tweet" and that Washburn "stretches and stretches it through [its] three parts".
The play is referred to in the 2015 The Simpsons episode "Let's Go Fly a Coot" as part of a list of recent post-apocalyptic films (despite the fact that it is not a film). In writer Mike Reiss's memoir about writing for the show (Springfield Confidential), he describes his disappointment with the play, saying both it and the playwright failed because the play was what The Simpsons itself never was, "grim, pretentious and dull."
|2014||Drama League Award||Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play||Nominated|||
Julie Grossman examined Mr. Burns as an instance of multilayered adaptation. She wrote that the show "challenges audiences to embrace the imaginative (if strange and alienating) scions, or adaptations, of cultural matter." In reference to characters in the play's second act bargaining for rights to and lines from other Simpsons episodes, she noted "That permissions and copyright have survived the apocalypse brings out the absurdity of owning the rights to artistic production and dialogue and the persistence of capitalism." Grossman differentiated Mr. Burns from Emily St. John Mandel's 2014 novel Station Eleven, which also examines storytelling in a postapocalyptic setting, in the types of catalysts for their respective apocalypse: a naturally occurring flu outbreak in Station Eleven versus an unnatural and greed-driven nuclear collapse in Mr. Burns. "Although the play's postmodern mash-up of television, film, and theater is highly entertaining, its powerful ethics resides in seeing capitalism and consumerism (symbolized by the greedy Simpsons character Mr. Burns) as the causes of civilization's decay."