Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Garrison

Doh! This isn’t a live-action version of The Simpsonsor is it?

By Andrew Andrews

Zack Fine in Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s production of Anne Washburn and Michael Friedman’s Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, directed by Davis McCallum. Original photos by T. Charles Erickson.

All of the nuclear reactors in America have started to melt down.

As people everywhere scatter and wander, they record the names and ages of those they encounter along the way.

Everyone is allowed to list ten names to look up in the others’ diaries, to find out whether friends and loved ones might still be alive—and if so, where they could be found.

Passing the time as best they can, four nomads sit around a campfire, trying to recall the details of an episode of The Simpsons, when a new guy appears with his diary full of names.

Starting out as a tense, emotional thriller, this “post-electric play” becomes slightly avant garde yet enjoyably comedic, as society adapts to a “new normal” far more traumatic than COVID-19.

Initially staged ten years ago in Washington, DC, Mr. Burns is playwright Anne Washburn’s answer to the question “what would happen to a pop culture narrative pushed past the fall of civilization.”

The cast includes Emily Ota, Lauren Karaman, Luis Quintero, Britney Nicole Simpson, Zachary Fine, Sean McNall, and Meritt Janson (shown), plus Kayla Coleman, Erin Despanie, Zoë Goslin, Will Ormsby Cary, Destini Stewart, Roman Alec Trevino, and Kimberly Chatterjee.

You don’t have to be a fan of America’s longest-running scripted primetime television series to enjoy Mr. Burns.

If you’ve seen at least a few episodes—enough to know the characters—you’ll appreciate how an entire play can revolve around a much-loved television show long after it’s gone off the air.

Long after every TV show has gone off the air.

Really, Mr. Burns wouldn’t have to be about The Simpsons to be a great story. Substitute Friends, or The Brady Bunch, or maybe even M*A*S*H and it could still work—because although this play is entirely about the cartoon, it’s not about the cartoon at all.

It’s about remembering, interpreting, and holding on. It’s about tradition, legacy and legend.

Expertly rendered by the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival company in their tented outdoor space on the grounds of their new home, Mr. Burns combines the best of everything—high production value, beautiful setting, worrisome drama, quirky comedy, professional music and a small touch of audience participation—with just enough indirect experimental theatre, in the form of a play-within-a-play.

This isn’t to say that the story, or this production, is perfect: the opening scene is more tedious than necessary to make its point, and HVSF could have better heeded the playwright’s advice about details I won’t mention so you won’t know they’re missing.

But don’t let those very-minor flaws stop you from attending this show, because Mr. Burns is unlike anything we’ve seen before, in the best-possible, completely-accessible way.

Just as long as you get the references.

Andrew Andrews attended Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison on Friday, August 26, 2022 @ 7:30am to write this review.