Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

  • Theater
  • Drama
Critics' pick
1/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
2/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
3/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
4/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
5/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
6/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
7/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
8/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
9/9
Photograph: Joan Marcus
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Playwrights Horizons (see Off Broadway). By Anne Washburn. Music by Michael Friedman. Directed by Steve Cosson. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play: in brief

A team of Civilians vets—playwright Anne Washburn, director Steve Cosson and composer Michael Friedman—is behind this dystopian parable about pop-culture mythology, in which The Simpsons becomes a touchstone for actors in a world gone dark. The top-notch cast includes Matthew Maher, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Jennifer R. Morris and Gibson Frazier.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play: theater review by David Cote

Anne Washburn’s hypnotic, sly and fiendishly insinuating Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play exploits two key elements in our lives right now. One is dead serious: the threat of terrorism-related technological meltdown, leading to social chaos. The other is a trivial pursuit: the geekily detailed episode recap. These disproportionate concerns come together in the first scene: Refugees from an unspecified catastrophe huddle around a fire in the woods, trying to recount the “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons. Out of that primitive act of bonding and consolation spins a startlingly emotional epic of the human ability to survive horror—and eventually turn it into art.

Maybe I’m making Mr. Burns sound pretentious and mawkish; it is neither. The three-part narrative spans more than 80 years and is best described with circumspection, since its shocks and jokes keep you on the edge of your seat, excitedly forging connections. Suffice it to say that by the last, sung-through section, the cartoon absurdity of The Simpsons has been transmuted into something ancient and tragic, as it synthesizes bits of cultural detritus from The Night of the Hunter, Gilbert and Sullivan, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and countless others.

The impeccable Playwrights Horizons production—staged with steely grace by Steve Cosson and acted by a terrific ensemble—does the improbable: It makes the end of civilization seem like the perfect time to create glowing objects of wonder and beauty.—Theater review by David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

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Will MacAdam

Any playwright whose concept of theater is this sort of abstract endurance test immediately makes my short list of playwrights I will now avoid, and any critic who not only condones the sort of BS, but falls all over himself, is so out of touch with what I'm about, I will never bother to read another word he vomits forth.