Review: “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” (Theater Wit)

Mr, Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Photo by Charles Osgood.

Show: “Mr Burns, A Post Electric Play”

Company: Theater Wit

Venue: Theater Wit

Die Roll: 83 (on a d%)

This is not a show about “The Simpsons”.

No, seriously.

It’s mind-bending, terrifying, hilarious, and moving, but it is most definitely not about Bart, Lisa, Homer, Maggie, and Marge. “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” has a much more interesting story to tell.

The show begins the moment you walk into the theater and are confronted with an old-school proscenium arch hung with a closed velvet curtain. Instead of elaborate gilding, this arch is decorated with an odd array of half-wrecked lighting fixtures, which perfectly sets the tone for what will follow. When the curtain rises, it reveals a lightless wood somewhere in the north, and a group of people gathered around a softly-glowing brazier. They sit on a sofa and pass bottles of Budweiser. While it could be any gathering of folk out on a camping trip (well, maybe without the couch), it soon becomes clear that something Very Bad has happened in America. It might be nuclear, or some kind of plague that led to the power grid failing and nuclear plants overloading. Whatever happened, our company in the woods turns out to be new acquaintances trying to figure out to do next.

To distract themselves, they work their way through a “Simpsons” episode, intent on recalling it as exactly as possible, with all the best lines intact and rendered via some pretty good impressions. “The Simpsons” is so ubiquitous that it serves as a point of commonality, something to grab onto as the old world goes dark.

Mr. Burns, photo by Charles Osgood
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electic Play. Photo by Charles Osgood

The play comprises three acts with two intermissions. Each act opens on a different time and place, and things just get weirder each time the curtain rises. And by weird, I mean wonderful.  I’m not going to spoil the story for you, but let it be known that there are some outstanding music and dance numbers and the third act has to be seen to be believed.

Of course, having Anne Washburn’s excellent script is only a part of the puzzle. Bringing it to life is an ensemble of eight versatile actors under the deft direction of Theatre Wit’s Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler.

Each actor has a stand-out moment, and they are equally strong as a group. In Act One, we’re introduced to survivors Matt (Daniel Desmarais), Colleen (Hannah Gomez), Maria (Christina Hall), Sam (Andrew Jessop), Gibson (Jeff Trainor), and Jenny (Leah Urzendowski). Quincy (Leslie Ann Sheppard) joins the troupe in Act Two, and Kelley Abell rounds out the crew in Act Three playing a character called Ms. Krabapel.  Trainor lets his magnificent voice fly in a couple of places, while Urzendowski shows off the same mix of intensity and grace that she lent to aerialist Nellie Bly in the extremely physical “Burning Bluebeard” last month. Jessop’s soft-spoken Sam has a couple of jaw-dropping moments when the gang busts out their moves in the second act, and in the third…

Well. Spoilers, sweetie. Suffice it to say that the entire cast will stun you when  you return from the second intermission.

Credit is also due to the talented design team. Joe Schermoly’s sets perfectly capture the descent from one world into another, as do the costumes by Mara Blumenfeld and Mieka Van Der Ploeg. Christopher Kriz’s sound design is exquisite, and meshes well with Andra Velis Simon’s musical direction.

Seriously, this show has it all, and it’s using all of the tools of modern theatre to do it – not big technical splashes, but clever designs, good acting, the right mixture of stillness and explosions. Go have your mind blown with some damn fine theatre.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: A dark, funny, moving, scary, tremendously weird end of days.

Dice Rating: d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”