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Mr. Burns @ CPT

Hoofed it over to CPT last week to see Mr. Burns. The production was fantastic, especially the third act which is so brilliantly done it makes the whole play worth seeing, which is saying something because the play itself is not that great, in fact, weighing in at two hours and fifteen minutes, this play could have been cut.

The first act is a post-apocalyptic campsite, and for fans of the Walking Dead it’s as close to the tv show as you’ll get in a live theater performance. The atmosphere is realistic and tense. The characters are clearly forced together and pass the time talking about Simpson episodes. Why? Who knows. They also talk about Night of the Hunter, the fantastically surreal film by Charles Laughton that stars Robert Mitchum as a murderous ex-con preacher with Love and Hate tattooed on his fists. Again, not really sure what this has to do with the play, unless Washburn is relying on the preacher’s chasing two kids across an apocalyptic landscape as a reference–for those who’ve seen the film. There’s also the reference to Cape Fear, the film also starring Robert Mitchum, in which a killer wronged by an attorney terrorizes the attorney’s family, finally cornering them on a river boat during a storm: again, a survival story with a killer. Connection to the play? This first act sets the characters and circumstances….

The second act is 7 years later, I think. Something like that. Mankind has broken into tribes that apparently have nothing better to do than re-stage Simpsons episodes. The tribes from different areas fight over lines and episodes and stories and the whole of it is pretty absurd, which I have to assume is the intent, and way too damn long. This act enforces the importance of the Simpsons to this universe, perhaps warning us about the things that we value, or the unexpected cultural artifacts that a civilization leaves behind.

The third act is very much later, I think 75 years. I am not sure what to make of this act, whether it is a theatrical enactment or a religious ritual. It is, however, the most impressive act of the production. The costuming, choreography, sound, light, and Megan Elk performing a Japanese Noh ritual dance that is as fantastic as it is strange. The third act is operatic and the stage mechanics of the Cape Fear boat, complete with the life saver bearing Love Hate from Night of the Hunter all return, is magical. Mr. Burns finally appears here, setting up a final fight between Burns and Bart. This stylized fight has much in common with the Nutcracker and the Rat King in the ballet, complete with Itchy and Scratchy as Mr. Burns’ minions.

The show, performance-wise, is worth seeing. The content and structure of the play itself would be a bit much to endorse, unless you’re truly a Simpson-ophile and a fan of whacky theater. Convergence put up The Internationalist in 2011, a much better representation of Washburn’s work.

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