The poignant Simpson-themed play Mr. Burns opened the University Players 60th season last weekend. So, is it “Excellent” or do we “Release The Hounds”? Let’s all head on down to Moe’s and figure it out.
Mr. Burns is the post-apocalyptic vision of playwright Anne Washburn who gives us an absurd three-act vision that starts with a group of survivors who have gathered together and begin to attempt to recount the 1993 Simpsons episode “Cape Feare”. The second act picks up with the same group seven years later, who have now formed a theatrical troupe that specializes in performing Simpsons episodes, complete with commercials. The final act is set an additional 75 years in the future. The same episode of The Simpsons, now a familiar myth, has been reworked into a musical pageant, with the story, characters, and morals repurposed to fit the artistic and dramatic needs of a culture still reeling from destruction of civilization and the near-extinction of humanity.
After all was said and done I was both exhausted and exhilarated. It’s a play that tackles a theme that I’ve pondered over many times in my life – how distorted and muffled can something become over the years as it is told and handed down through generations. Much like the result in the third act, it’s a distorted mess that neither resembles or maintains any of the original characteristics of its source. Except in Mr. Burns, it warped into a dark, deep and depressing musical. And that’s what makes Mr. Burns kinda cool.
There is no doubt the eight-member cast is capable in this one, especially in the first two acts, which are the most exciting and exhilarating of the three, but as the show reaches its giant musical the third set, each cast member gets to “become” a Simpson and play out the darkest, most absurd musical number I’ve ever seen.
They gave the traumatized characters of the first act an optimistic outlook in the second and then dropped all inhibitions in the third. And with so many character changes, tonal adaptions and physical demands, this cast exceeded all expectations. And, they even sang as well. Cowabunga, dude!
Some left the theatre wondering what they just saw, others declared it a brilliant work of art, but everyone agreed that the cast is one of the finest ensembles University Players has assembled in the last few years. And that’s literally where I stand. I’m still confused a bit from the content of the show – it was brilliant, ridiculous, senseless and baffling all in one, but that cast just blew me away.
Additionally, musicians Sam Poole and Alex Aidera-Leite provided a wonderful live soundtrack for the musical third act.
That’s it for me. If anyone wants me, I’ll be in my room.
There’s still time to see Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play – it resumes tonight and runs until Sunday, with matinee shows on the weekend. For more info or tickets visit www.uwindsor.ca/universityplayers.