It’s the not-so-distant future and apocalypse has struck. There’s no alternating current anymore, and all those devices that used to plug in are defunct. Batteries and other necessary supplies are scarce, and people bargain for them by reciting whatever lines they can remember from their favorite television programs from the days before the great lights-out.
This is the premise of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, which opens at UCSB’s Studio Theater this weekend. I’m guessing that if you are reading this, and you have paid attention to the play’s title, you already know that the show that this particular group of people goes around reciting is The Simpsons. In fact, it’s even more specific than that, as the characters are mostly familiar with one specific episode, the great Season 5 episode “Cape Feare,” which features Sideshow Bob as a homicidal maniac obsessed with killing Bart Simpson. With loads of cinematic references to both Cape Fear films and beyond, along with the famous rake gag, and plenty of Gilbert & Sullivan sung by Kelsey Grammer as Sideshow Bob, you have the makings of a top 10 all-time Simpsons, and of one that many people cite as their absolute favorite.
But what is it doing in a postapocalyptic play at UCSB? For playwright Anne Washburn, it was an opportunity to play around with the idea of a show that’s based on people’s memories of TV, and to push that idea well beyond any reasonable set of expectations. According to director Tom Whitaker, she succeeded, as the play is a three-act extravaganza that begins in a realistic style, shifts to an improvisational theater mode in Act Two, and winds up as a myth-driven musical in the third.
Whitaker has eight of the best singers and actors at UCSB lined up as these post-electric thespians as well as Jon Nathan organizing the music and Christina McCarthy choreographing the show. For fans of contemporary theater, this is a chance to see the kind of freewheeling postmodernism that one would typically have to travel to New York or Los Angeles to see. Plus, it’s The Simpsons, dammit!
411 Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play will be at UCSB’s Studio Theater March 4-12. For tickets and information, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu or call 893-2064.