Boston College Contemporary Theatre took America’s favorite animated sitcom, The Simpsons and added a bit of creativity and dark humor, turning it into a well-developed commentary on the evolution of society and entertainment.
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, directed by Molly Caballero, LSEHD ’24, is divided into three acts, each of which is set in a different time period. While the cast remains the same, their characters change over the course of different time jumps, emphasizing the change in what entertainment means to society.
The first act features a rag-tag group of survivors who’ve just escaped some sort of apocalyptic nuclear fallout. The actors spend much of the first act trying to recount a Simpsons episode titled “Cape Feare.” They can’t quite manage the details, but the cast draws some laughs with their exaggerated hand movements and reenactments of the episode’s best moments.
Time and time again, the characters are pulled away from the humor and levity in the script because of the trauma that they’ve experienced prior to the act.
The act is set around a campfire with realistic sound effects and a tent that’s enough to convince the audience that they’re in the woods. Staged on the rooftop patio of the McMullen Museum of Art, the first act makes the audience feel immersed in the post-apocalyptic world.
The following two acts continue to take the audience on a tour of the McMullen, as the show’s second act takes place inside the back gallery, and the third act is staged on the back patio outside.
In all settings, the lighting is critical to the plot. Red tones light the room to indicate the presence of death, while brighter blues and yellows appear in scenes that are more lightheartedly comedic.
Act Two features the rag-tag group seven years later, as the group is now a family unit that puts on productions of The Simpsons for a living, but the characters ironically still have to deal with copyright infringement. In a world where society has collapsed, entertainment and creative disputes survive and endure.
The second act is at its best when the group puts on “commercials,” or little comedic gags with dance and song numbers. They’re trying to recreate actual television, after all, so the jokes and well-put-together jingles aren’t wasted on the audience. But, laughs aside, serious debates about the cutthroat evolution of the entertainment industry pull the characters away.
This act juxtaposes society’s greed with people’s common yearning to be entertained, which poses a question to the audience: Can society’s emotional weight drag down something as light and pointless as The Simpsons?
The third act picks up 75 years later with a final performance of the episode “Cape Feare.” This rendition of the episode is drastically different from the version in Acts One and Two. Elements of the nuclear fallout in Act One with the seriousness in Act Two come together to create a musical drama in which Bart Simpson engages in a fight for his life. Key plot points in the episode are altered to create a similar narrative with a wildly different outcome.
This last spectacle is no doubt entertaining. It comments on how the entertainment industry has taken real-life trauma and desensitized the audience to the actual experience, compacting it into a single episode of The Simpsons. In the play, the weight of society’s trauma seen in the first act contaminates this retelling of The Simpsons in a way that critically alters the material.
In Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, art is a medium for the expression of pain and individuality that reflects the weight of society’s troubles. Mixed in with some irony and dark humor, the play nails down what it means to appreciate art and understand its true purpose.