Would it really be worth living in a world without television? I think the survivors would envy the dead.
Krusty the Clown, “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming”
I remember my Nana’s funeral; the evening after a group of us were heaped together on a couch. After a long emotional day no one was sure what to talk about. Everyone was lost in memories and recalling my Nana’s sad final months. Somehow, though, I got my hands on a collection of Calvin and Hobbes and a bunch of us spent an hour or so entranced with the adventures of a spiky haired six year old and his imaginary tiger. That’s the nature of humanity; in the face of true grief or horror what we need most is distraction.
Mr. Burns, a post electric play opens with a scene that’s existed since before recorded history—a group of people huddled around a campfire sharing songs and stories to head off the night. While once upon a time people no doubt regaled each other with tales of mammoths, the Greek Gods, and the Big Rock Candy Mountain, these folks are going on their cultural touchstone—The Simpsons. Anne Washburn brilliantly imagines a post-apocalyptic world without power racked by explosions, fire and nuclear fallout. Survivors share notebooks with each other trying to find news on any loved ones who’ve gone missing. In a world of such terror and confusion, a group of people who’ve lost everything turn to one thing that can still bring a smile to their lips; the memory of a cartoon. This first act is so realistic you can literally imagine yourself and just about anyone else you doing the same thing. And Washburn’s and Director Steven Cossen are only getting started!
In a few years time, a disparate band of survivors has turned their memories of the former pop culture, including not only The Simpsons, but Gilbert and Sullivan, top 40 favorite songs, and yes commercials for all the lovely consumer items we used to have (including the much mourned for Diet Cokes) into a traveling theatre company who buy “lines” from people of random old episodes and perform them in a tableau that is both amusing and tragic. A century later all these memories have morphed and evolved even further into a whole new origin story by our descendants. I can’t tell you too much about this final act for fear of spoiling it but suffice to say it has to be seen to be believed. (Though it does go on a bit longer than it has to). Frank Labovitz’s costume work as well as Misha Kachman’s sets are truly wondrous and inventive, while the cast of performers is uniformly excellent. Mr. Burns is meta all right, but it’s also filled with heart and real insight into the human condition, much like The Simpsons (in its better episodes) itself.
Photos by Scott Suchman
Mr. Burns, a post electric play
The Woolly Mammoth
641 D Street, NW
Through July 1, 2012