MR. BURNS, A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY
Little Mountain Lion Productions, Studio 1398 until 21st April
My Two Pence
By Liz Gloucester
I love theatre companies that select plays like 'Mr. Burns' for their season. It's clever, fresh, and exists to prove how important art is to humanity. It's the end of the world as we know it, and seven survivors are choosing this time to entertain and create wonder - not open a coffee shop. In spite of that slight- it was a stroke of genius to have Homer's precious doughnuts at the concession stand.
Act One opens with five people seated around a hobo fire recounting as best possible an episode of the Simpsons - 'Cape Feare'. References to some unknown apocalyptic event pepper the conversation and we become acutely aware that there is a danger in the darkness surrounding them; this is no family camping trip. Suddenly, amidst the joyful nostalgia, a stranger enters and it's 'straight to attention- guns out- frisking- hostile until proven friendly!' After a few tense minutes the newcomer is joining in with the discussion and even shows off his vocal talent, performing some Gilbert and Sullivan for the two delighted audiences!
Having spied potential in themselves, Act Two has moved on 7 years; there are now seven survivors and they have formed a theatrical troupe. There is a heavy focus on recreating the bawdy commercials between episode segments and a fantastic choreographed megamix of post 2000 songs coupled with spangly outfits. Due to the absence of physical records they rely on paying for accurate lines at a trading booth. It is clear that 'the disaster' is still prominent in mind and that violence and desperation is rife even among those of an artistic persuasion.
Act Three is 80 odd years further into the future. The entire act is an operetta version of 'Cape Feare' à la Gilbert and Sullivan if HMS Pinafore was written by Bloodshy and Avant. All characters are now masked and just as in typical oral tradition, there have been many amendments, losses and confusions. The character of Sideshow Bob has been replaced by the titular Mr. Burns who is threatening Bart aboard a boat surrounded by dangerous water.
I think I wanted to like this play more than I actually did. I have nothing but the highest respect for Little Mountain Lion Productions creative team for their production, it was splendid - however Act Three feels so long that it did mar my experience somewhat. Maybe that is the intention though - I have sat through Aida, a similar length, and felt the drag. What I loved about Mr. Burns was the questions it raised for me about what we hold in high regard when it comes to art, and what indeed will stand the test of time and struggle.
While the play is very funny, what really stood out for me were the moments of extreme tenderness and the handling of concealing heightened emotion - a trait so typical of humanity yet often ignored on stage. Stephanie Izsak shone in this production and not just with noxious fluorescent. Stunning voice aside, the specificity in her retention of the beloved mannerisms of Mr. Burns was, well, electric. I would have been interested to see a similar effort made with the other characters. I know it is a bit much to expect anyone to have the vocal talent to mimic Dan Castellaneta or turn themselves into a 2D cartoon but it felt like there was something missing-
- So I went home to find it. 'Cape Feare', seven parts on YouTube - writer Anne Washburn is right - it should be preserved, in whatever medium possible, for future generations.