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Theater Review: 'Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play' -- 2 stars

"Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" Credit: "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play"

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play
2 stars

In experimental playwright Anne Washburn’s apocalyptic vision of the immediate future, nuclear meltdowns have decimated most of the population, there is no electricity and little otherwise remains of civilization. But hey, there’s still “The Simpsons.”

“Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” is essentially a thesis statement on the storytelling tradition and how pop culture can morph into legend over the course of time. It is thought-provoking and imaginative but, by the same token, tedious, heavy-handed and unapologetically creepy.

In the first scene, a group of armed survivors sit around a camp fire and try to remember lines and plot points from the “Cape Feare” episode of “The Simpsons,” which parodied the 1991 film remake of the suspense thriller “Cape Fear” and revolved around Sideshow Bob’s determination to kill Bart Simpson.

The survivors can’t remember the episode word for word, but the memories provide comfort of days gone by. Growing up as a “Simpsons” fan, I especially loved this episode, even without knowing the slightest thing about “Cape Fear.”

A few years later, the same group has evolved into an organized theater troupe that offers live performances of “Simpsons” episodes.

In the final scene, set 75 years into the future, “Cape Feare” has mutated into an opera-style morality drama where Mr. Burns has replaced Sideshow Bob as the villain. Instead of providing comedy, it now pays tribute to the ongoing resilience of the survivors, who still lack electric power.

This play is really for academics who are familiar with “The Simpsons” but don’t care for it. Those who love the episode may be annoyed at watching a watered-down, twisted version. On the other hand, how are those unfamiliar with it to make sense of this?

“Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” plays through Oct. 6 at Playwrights Horizons. 416 W. 42nd St., playwrightshorizons.org.

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