Like most kids that grew up in the ‘90s, I’ve been watching The Simpsons for the majority of my life. There was a time when a good chunk of my lexicon consisted of Simpson’s quotes, and even now some friends and I have made an art of commenting on each other’s Facebook status with the perfect quote or reference!
Which means that, despite a discernible lack of any survival skills, I probably would fare quite well in the post-apocalyptic world of Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.
When I arrived at Toronto’s historic Aztec Theatre to see the play, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but the tone is set as soon as you enter the lobby. The walls are covered in handmade missing persons signs, as well as hand drawn posters featuring advertisements for shows, maps, how-to’s, and of course, Simpson’s characters. It was all a little eerie, which was clearly the intent.
The play itself is divided into three acts, all performed without the use of electricity. Act One takes place shortly after the electric grid goes down, causing the meltdown of every nuclear power plant in the country. We’re introduced to a group of survivors who attempt to recreate an old Simpsons episode as a means of distracting themselves from the terror and chaos of the world in which they now live.
Act two moves us seven years forward, where the population that remains – including our group of survivors - has formed a new industry based around travelling performance troupes re-enacting old TV shows. In this society, lines from episodes have become a sort of currency, and although things seem fine on the surface, we’re still made aware of the current of danger and uncertainty in their world.
The final act takes us another 75 years in to the future and is itself a show within a show, sort of a Greek tragedy loosely based on that Simpson’s episode they keep referencing, all told through song. Only the story has now evolved, so what was once a fictional cartoon comedy is now a chilling tale that incorporates the history of the nuclear meltdown, songs from our current present, and other well-known pop culture references.
I personally was very familiar with ‘Cape Feare’, the episode that Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play is built around, but I think even non-Simpson’s aficionados would be able to enjoy this play. There are a strong group of characters to relate to, and the first act gives you all the information about the classic TV show that you need.
Ultimately, the theme of the play is about stories and how they evolve over time. As they say on their website, it is the exploration of how the pop culture of one era evolves into the mythology of another. It’s incredibly smart how all of the pieces are pulled together in the third act, creating something both completely new and yet somehow familiar.
I’ve seen many plays and musicals over the years, but I can honestly say this was one of the most original theatrical experiences I’ve had in my life. It was truly (say it with me now) “excellent”.
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, is An Outside the March production, in association with Starvox Entertainment and Crow’s Theatre. It was written by Anne Washburn with a score by Michael Friedman and is playing at the Aztec Theatre until June 7. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the show’s website.