Masks, campfires and books of names

TheaterCNU’s November production, ‘Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play’ fuses acapella, ‘The Simpsons,’ and the future after an apocalyptic nuclear disaster

Scratchy (Tanner Payne), Marge Simpson (Abby Rozmajzl), Lisa Simpson (Emilee Papa) and Homer Simpson (Adam LeKang) appraise a threatening situation in Act III. TAYLOR VIGIL / THE CAPTAIN’S LOG

By Annie Silva

It’s the end of the world. You’ve lost your family, friends, and your home. What’s left to do, you might ask? Theater CNU’s production of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play answers this question and many more.

Written by Anne Washburn, Mr. Burns was first produced in 2012 in Washington, DC. It takes place sometime after an apocalyptic event has hit America. In the first act, a group of survivors try to recount the “Cape Feare” episode of The Simpsons. The second act takes place seven years later and the group now performs episodes for fellow survivors as entertainment. The final act is an interpretation of the episode 75 years later, resembling a Greek tragedy complete with musical numbers.

The play’s ensemble of actors were cohesive and synchronized. They balanced the comedy of apocalyptic survivors recounting a Simpsons’ episode with the drama of losing family members and their homes. The cast also brought forth a grounding reality to their characters. Conversations and relationships were genuine and created the feeling that everything happening on stage was real. Not only did they embody authenticity in one role, the troupe was also double cast as the various Simpson characters for the last act. Each actor brought something new to every character they portrayed.

The first act centered on Matt (Adam Lekang) recounting The Simpsons episode with help from the other survivors. Lekang had an impressive amount of dialogue which he executed with energy and liveliness to enrapture the audience’s attention. The character of Gibson (Ben Atkinson) came later in the first act and served as shift in the play to a more serious tone. Atkinson and the other survivors beautifully transitioned into a more dramatic environment with raw emotions and well-executed conversations that heightened tensions and furthered the conflict.

Two FBI Agents (Emilee Papa and Cody Davis) engage with Matt (Adam LeKang) in the armchair. TAYLOR VIGIL / THE CAPTAIN’S LOG

The final act of the show was mostly sung. The actors struck the audience with their phenomenal harmonies, rich tones, and spectacular solos throughout the various musical numbers. As the hero for the final act, Bart Simpson (Danielle Jansen) took the lead on many of the songs. Jansen’s vocals were pure and resonant. She paired her gorgeous singing with equally impressive acting as the young Bart attempts to overcome the evil Mr. Burns (Ben Atkinson).  

The backdrop of the set was a large, impressively constructed mask of Mr. Burns with the mouth being the main entrance point for many of the actors throughout the show. The first act utilized simple camping chairs while the second act had more evolved furniture as time progresses and the survivors acquired more items. The final act tied together the tribal futuristic feel of a fire pit with a classic Simpsons style house set.

The lighting was simple yet effective.  One could sense the dwindling hopes of the survivors as the lights dimmed and the fun, whimsical mood when the lights brightened. The cast could be heard clearly, seemingly without the use of microphones, an impressive feat.

With such a new and unconventional concept, the cast did remarkably well to ground their reality in a manner that the audience could relate to. With their expert chemistry and emotional vulnerability, the cast engaged the audience and left them wondering about what the future may bring for America and the world.

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