Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn breathes new life into the Baltimore Theatre Scene. A dynamic look at the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, Mr. Burns dissects the way humans use memories from the past to sculpt their history and religion. Led by Lance Bankerd this production is a full on theatrical event that is quite amazing to witness.
Housed appropriately at The United Evangelical Church Fallout Shelter, scenic designer Jess Rassp utilizes every square inch of the space to craft a truly environmental point of view. With strands of Christmas lights running the perimeter and scattered debris everywhere, we are placed right in the middle of this well-devised world. With three acts and two intermissions the audience is asked to vacate their seats so they can be rearranged to change the audience’s vantage point.
While Mr. Bankerd’s efforts to create the event of the show were beautifully realized, the first act tended to drag a bit for me. The concept is that the band of survivors is trying to piece together an episode of The Simpsons from memory. The scene is so naturalistic and believable that at times it seems so real it was no longer interesting. I felt as though I had to work to connect with these characters throughout the first act. This did change when they stopped trying to remember the episode and began comparing notes about other survivors they may have run into, everyone hoping to hear the name of a loved one they’ve lost. Christine Wells, in particular, exposes her character’s vulnerability so beautifully throughout this moment that it was breathtaking to watch.
As we move into the second act, the audience’s chairs are rotated to face the stage and we see the same group of survivors plus a few new members. It’s seven years later and the group has become a travelling theatre troupe, surviving by reenacting episodes of The Simpsons for audiences in exchange for payment/supplies. This act was near perfect. The pacing, the stakes, the character work, everything was exactly where it needed to be. Matthew Casella as Gibson has a particularly noteworthy moment where a conversation he can’t remember sends him into a tailspin worrying if his brain lapse was due to the effects of being exposed to nuclear fallout. His worry and despair is so palpable I was feeling it right along with him. He and the cast did not over play this moment nor brush it off, but rather reveled in its beautiful darkness.
The third act is 75 years after the first act and we see completely different characters donning masks of Simpsons’ characters. They serve medieval passion play realness by acting out an almost religious ritualistic retelling of an episode of The Simpsons. Meghan Stanton got to really utilize her beautiful singing voice. This act was a perfect button to the entire show. My only flaw was that the majority of the actors had a tendency to let the masks they were wearing do a lot of the acting for them. Only Nicholas Miles and Hannah Fogler, who played Itchy and Scratchy in the play within a play, really dug in and acted through their new masks/costumes.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play is a great piece that you don’t see offered anywhere else. One of the most interesting shows I’ve ever seen with an ensemble that blends and moves together flawlessly and a directorial point of view that keeps you invested throughout. Cohesion Theatre Company is offering something truly Electric. (B)
Runs at Cohesion Theatre Company thru 12/17. Running time 2:20 (ish) with two intermissions.