Last week, East Tennessee State University’s Theatre Department delivered a production of Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play.” “Mr. Burns” is set in a post-apocalyptic world where pop culture has been pushed past the fall of civilization. For one group of survivors, storytelling is their salvation. Each survivor is connected by their ability to recall episodes of The Simpsons.
On Thursday night, I walked into Bud Franke Theatre not knowing what to expect. The theatre was filled with students, friends, parents and patrons of ETSU. Who wouldn’t want to see a play based off of The Simpsons?
“I’ve always been a fan of shows like The Simpsons, so when I heard my university was putting on a show based on one of the episodes, I couldn’t pass it up,” said John Bailey, an audience member. “In the end, it was mediocre. I’m not sure I would go see it again.”
You need to know the cast was amazing. Some scenes may have been stronger than others, but the cast did all they could with the material they had to work with. Quincy, played by Ashton Bishop, had the audience in tears from laughter. Gibson, played by Jonathon Delozier, made the audience’s skin raise into goosebumps with his heart-wrenching PTSD episode, and Luke Walker as Mr. Burns had us hiding under our seats. Everything the survivors and Bart felt, we felt collectively.
As far as content goes, there was much to be desired in Act I. Act I dragged on with too many explanations and too little emotion. It was necessary, as it provided the foundation for the play, but amid the gunshots and long explanations, we were a little lost. The biggest highlight was Delozier’s “Three Little Maids From School.”
Things improved with Act II, which was by far the greatest. Set seven years after the start of the play, survivors group together to practice for a performance – their attempts at re-creating pop culture elements. In this time period, people buy and sell lines from commercials and shows to try and create full episodes to perform for audiences. The group is still connected by their recreation of The Simpsons. From start to finish, every member of the audience was on the edge of their seats waiting for more hilarious moments from Colleen, played by Kimberly Ireson, and the others.
Act III was unnecessary but rewarding. It was comprised of The Simpsons family, Mr. Burns, and Itchy and Scratchy. Our hearts were torn to pieces when Bart, played by Gracie Fulghum, mourned his family who was killed by the notorious Mr Burns. Mr. Burns, played by Luke Walker, delivered a terrifying performance that will probably gave some of us nightmares for weeks to come. Walker was dedicated to audience involvement, and even had the entire audience participate during a musical number.
“My favorite character would have to be Mr. Burns in Act III,” stated Bailey. “His voice and inflection made him sound like a hardcore villain.”
Cara Harker, the director and choreographer, created simple yet awe-inspiring movements and delivered a nuclear production along with her cast and crew. Andrea Marshall, the casts’ wardrobe supervisor excelled expectations with creative and unique costumes for The Simpsons family, and the Act III ensemble scared yet excited us.
“The music was great and really added to the emotional element of the play, and the choreography was basic but effective,” said Bailey.
There were several odd and emotional moments, a few scary moments and some hair-raising ones. As far as the play itself by Anne Washburn, I’m not impressed. When it comes to the cast, crew, and production itself, I’m really excited to see what the next academic year has in store. More about this season’s productions can be found at https://www.etsu.edu/cas/theatre/productions.php.