Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play hits close to home

by Eloise Wajon

I have been a fan of the Simpsons for my whole life. As I’ve gotten older and developed my own artistry as a writer I’ve come to regard the first 10 seasons of the show as the golden standard for character design. I’m not alone in my revering - after all, the author of the Iliad is probably not the first person you think of when someone mentions the name ‘Homer.’ When I heard that NUTS was doing Mr Burns: An Electric Play, I jumped at the chance to see it. Mr Burns is a highly ambitious, thematically dense performance that asks the audience for their complete immersion in exchange for an answer to a question you might not have known you had, and for the most part, that answer is satisfying.

Originally performed in May 2012, Mr Burns: An Electric Play is an experimental play that speculates on what would become of the 21st century’s library of pop culture upon the apocalypse. For such an intimidating, broad theme it starts off simply: a chat around a campfire between a group of six survivors, as they try to remember what happened in S5E2 of The Simpsons, Cape Feare. The backstory unfolds slowly, then quickens with the introduction of a new character: Gibson (Trinity Ray). Lore begins flying at your head like debris in a hurricane somewhere around this point - it’s fast and it can be easy to miss crucial information, but the cast does a good job at keeping the pace digestible. We’re seated on a runaway train, as we swerve into the wide-scale mourning that such an event precipitates as well as the violence and terror the apocalypse inevitably unleashes.

7 years beyond that campfire conversation, we begin to see the same group try and reassemble popular culture with no physical evidence it had ever been before. Their initial rumination on the long-lost narratives of Simpsons episodes precedes the reemergence of a trade, or a kind of economy based on exchanging remembered lines and scenes from Simpsons episodes for live theatre, including performances shaped around a vague memory of commercials and renditions of popular music. In the first cast of characters, Cinnamon Howearth as Jenny is a standout with superb natural delivery. The chemistry of this cast is particularly evident while they coordinate their reenactment of the same Simpsons episode they first tried to string back together from memory - the first act closes out with a Rachel Berry moment for Quincy (Caitlin Beckwirth), a performer who radiates star quality. 

The second act takes the questions about the remains of popular culture upon the destruction of the physical world to its logical, but fascinating endpoint. Cape Feare has become folklore, and the now-mythological Simpsons characters have morphed and combined, 75 years removed from the source material. Some of the details are small. Bart (Grace Gilhawley) calls Lisa (Lucy Jeong) “big sis” when canonically, Lisa is 8 and Bart is 10. Some are more noticeable: Mr Burns (Arnold Walsh) is now something of a Monty Burns/Sideshow Bob/Krusty The Clown/The Joker hybrid. Walsh’s performance would be the likely audience favourite - well-deserved, as he strikes just the right balance of menacing and comedically tuneful. But personally, I was just as enchanted with the performance of Gilhawley, which achieved the difficult result of making the audience believe that Bart Simpson could be just as joyous a heroine as Maria in The Sound Of Music. The crew are equal parts accountable for the successful realisation of Mr Burns; Sophia Tudman on sound and Cinnamon Howearth on costume are particularly noteworthy

Mr Burns: An Electric Play is a mindfuck. It asks a lot of its audience; it asks us to forget what we know about The Simpsons and in many ways, forget what we know about the world. But NUTS’ rendition delivers on its promise of showing us new ways to look at America’s favourite family thanks to an engaging cast and skilful crew.

Eloise Wajon is a second-year Fine Arts/Arts student, majoring in Creative Writing. In her spare time, she likes to play video games and defend Taylor Swift in the comments section of Buzzfeed articles.

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