Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn

Friday night we headed up to Northampton for ice cream and culture. The ice cream was Herrell’s, the culture was Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play at the New Century Theater at Smith College. The play is written by Anne Washburn and directed by Sam Rush. We’d read a little about it and found it had gotten widely divergent reviews, so we were eager to see what it was all about.

It is amazing.

It begins in “the near future” with some folks around a campfire in the woods, drinking beer and remembering the “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons (the one where Sideshow Bob gets out of prison and threatens to kill Bart, so the family moves to Terror Lake, but Bob follows them there). If you know the show, you know this episode; it’s one of the very best, In fact, if you know the show, you’ll struggle in your seat as the characters try to remember a particular line that dammit, you know, and just want to yell it to them. When they hear a sound in the woods, they all pull out guns, and it becomes clear that things are not normal here.

In fact, what we find out is that something apocalyptic has happened. We don’t know exactly what, but something involving the complete loss of the electrical grid and some connection to nuclear power plants. The characters don’t know much themselves and are trying to piece it together. The arrival of a new person gives them a chance to maybe figure out more.

I don’t want to say too much, but in act two we see the same group, seven years later, when things have settled down some, but there’s still no electricity to be had. The recounting of the Simpsons episode in act one has now been transformed into a larger thing, and we see as people attempt to find some aspect of normalcy through preserving American pop culture.

Act three, however, is where it all goes fully incredible. Set seventy-five years after act two, the tale-telling has again evolved. It’s an incredible fusion of many of the previous ideas.

The show will be at the New Century Theater for another week, and if you can, I strongly urge you to see it. (I’d really like to know how well it works for people with no knowledge of The Simpsons.) The cast and crew do a great job with the material. We were well impressed with the production.

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