Category Archive for: ‘Judy Richter’

Storytelling, Simpsons central in ‘Mr. Burns’ at ACT

Storytelling becomes a powerful survival tool in “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,”  presented by American  Conservatory Theater in a co-production with the Guthrie Theater.

Playwright Anne Washburn sets the action in California after meltdowns at nuclear power plants across the country have knocked out the electrical grid, causing massive death and destruction.

As the play opens, a group of survivors is gathered around a campfire trying to reconstruct “Cape Feare,” an iconic episode of TV’s long-running “The Simpsons.” The approach of a stranger puts them in a defensive mode, guns drawn, but he’s just another survivor, and he brings news, none of it good.

The next scene fast-forwards seven years when the band of survivors has become a seven-member theater troupe. They’ve moved into an abandoned warehouse where they rehearse their performance of  “Cape Feare,” making due with limited resources. By now, lines from “The Simpsons” have become valuable currency for which the troupe must compete against others doing the same thing.

The second act is set 75 years later when a theater troupe is staging “Cape Feare,” complete with a mix of popular songs from the era of the Simpsons.

Although the play is filled with pop culture references that can evade some audience members, it’s still enjoyable for the strength of Washburn’s writing and her lyrics for the score by Michael Friedman.

It’s also enjoyable for the outstanding performances that director Mark Rucker elicits from the engaging ensemble cast: Nick Gabriel, Anna Ishida, Kelsey Venter, Ryan Williams French, Charity Jones, Jim Lichtscheidl, Tracey A. Leigh and Andrea Wollenberg. Wollenberg also works with musical director David Möschler as part of the two-person, offstage band.

The set by Ralph Funicello (with lighting by Alexander V. Nichols) becomes ever more fanciful, as do the costumes by Alex Jaeger. The sound is by Jake Rodriguez, the choreography by Amy Anders Corcoran.

Although the play stresses the importance of storytelling, it also honors humankind’s instinct for survival no matter how dire the circumstances.

After closing in San Francisco, the production will move to the Guthrie in Minneapolis.


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