Lyric Stage's "Mr. Burns": Radio-inactivity

The Cast of "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Once upon a time, in a galaxy not far away, there was a play entitled Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn, now being presented by Lyric Stage Company. With Music by Michael Friedman, and Directed by A. Nora Long, it centers around an episode of the television series The Simpsons known to its fans as “the Cape Feare episode”. The play concerns the nature of storytelling, with several film and musical references, for three acts, in a post apocalyptic world.

The first act takes place in semi-darkness (since electricity has been lost), making it difficult to appreciate any of the cast's facial expressions as they sit around the equivalent of a campfire in “the very near future”. They repeatedly attempt to reconstruct lines and incidents from the television episode based on the 1962 film Cape Fear (remade in 1991), complete with repeated renditions of the eerie four notes from the score (wah, wah, wah, wah). Their dialogue consists of seemingly endless blah, blah, blah, blah. The second act becomes a very meta story-within-a-story about the survivors seven years later and their making of a commercial, and the issue of memories and how they are reduced to paying for them, again with ceaseless repetition. The third act amounts to a virtual through-composed opera, referencing several repetitious pop songs (Ricky Martin's La Vida Loca, the theme song from The Flintstones, and some Gilbert and Sullivan numbers from The Mikado and H.M.S. Pinafore) . Unfortunately, the faces of the cast are again masked, this time literally. And note the repetition of the word “repetitious” throughout this assessment.

This play is the victim of theatrical brownout, full of post-eclectic eccentricity and signifying not very much. Any attempt to satirize what is already itself a satire risks being redundant and, when it concerns a cartoon, overly simple. Despite the valiant efforts of cast and creatives, the fault remains in the material, essentially a one-joke effort. For the record, the hard-working cast includes Jordan Clark, Aimee Doherty, Brandon G. Green, Gillian Mackay-Smith, Joseph Marrella, Lindsey McWhorter and Nael Nacer, all of whom perform the sophomoric material as best they can. The creative work by Music Director Allyssa Jones, Choreographer Yo-El Cassell, Scenic Designer Shelley Barish, Costume Designer Amanda Mujica, Lighting Designer Wen-Ling Liao and Sound Designer Sam Hanson is up to their typical standard, especially the Mask Design and Construction by Lauren Duffy.

Fans of The Simpsons may find this satire of interest. Those who are decidedly not fans, as well as those who are totally unfamiliar with the series, might prefer to look forward to Lyric Stage's next promising production of Peter and the Starcatcher.

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