Aficionados of the TV hit The Simpsons, in particular, won’t want to miss the Philadelphia area premiere of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, directed by Bridget Reilly Beauchamp, at Pulley and Buttonhole Theatre Company. But you don’t have to be a fan to appreciate the satirically entertaining homily offered here on the human urgency for the bonding that occurs through pop culture and shared stories. The show opens with several people hanging around a campfire dressed for chilly weather. In the dim light, they are taking turns retelling an old Simpsons episode, “Cape Feare”, correcting and comparing each other’s recollection of the story, animatedly joining in to form a complete collective memory. The pervasive sense that something is wrong is confirmed when the sound of someone approaching signals the group to grab their guns. A post apocalyptic accounting of encounters with other survivors ensues, with names culled from each individual’s ‘book’, an exchange of Simpsons anecdotes, and acceptance. The iconic TV show is something they all know and have in common, and cling to, which provides comfort, escape and symbiosis in the absence of diet coke, security, and electricity. As the play progresses, the fabled “Cape Feare” episode is recreated from common recollection over a span of several years, and religiously developed, reaching epic proportions after several decades, pinnacling into theatrical performances as “Mr. Burns,” including song, dance and, of course, commercials.
An enthusiastic ensemble keeps the energy going throughout the three act play, adeptly handling multiple roles and a montage of musical numbers, kindling interest and making it believable that the human will to survive and thrive is eternally tenacious. Lauren Salvo plays both Jenny and Bart Simpson with pluck and ease, and Josh Keiter deals his dual roles as Gibson and Mr. Burns with equal prowess and purpose. Zanna Yoshida portraying Colleen, and Adiah Hicks playing Maria, as well as other roles, clearly display excellent timing and rising talent. Kristina Denzel Bickford as Quincy, William Strupczewski portraying Sam, and Michael Strupczewski playing Matt, each give a terrific boost to every scene, while Stephanie Lavorgna emotes beautifully as Edna, via voice and overall expression. The power may be out in the story, but this cast supplies plenty on stage!
Musical and Sound Director Josh Beauchamp leads a lively band playing Michael Friedman’s score, with Kathleen Mosher on piano, Mac Farr on drums, as well as himself on guitar, charging the production’s light and dark moods with music and fitting sound effects, to further enhance the experience.
Jenna Snyder’s varied level sets are splendidly designed and cleverly arrayed. Items such as topsy-turvy painted trash cans, double doors at the back of the stage, nuclear cooling tower graffiti, and an awesome assortment of play within a play props inspire visual interest, yet do not overwhelm the action. Fantastic costuming, by Sean Quinn, communicates and clarifies many characters in addition to looking great, and working well with movement. Together with a stunning, and surprising lighting design by Amanda Hubbell, the technical aspects of the show are a delight to behold, and reinforce overall intent of the piece.
Although the second act is long, there is still value in the flow present within the script, which is punctuated with abrupt situational calamity, which erupts suddenly like a blow reminding us that anything can happen at any time (and to keep hard copy road atlases!). Pulley and Buttonhole more than meet the challenge by maintaining amazing, unflagging momentum. And happily, in the end, it is the power of theatrical art that brings back the light… Check it out!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play plays through October 29th, 2016 at Pulley and Buttonhole Theatre Company – 821 Homestead Road, in Jenkintown, PA. For tickets, call (215) 392-9958, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.