LOS ANGELES PREMIERE! After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors keep the spark of human spirit alive by telling stories around a campfire. As the years wear on, these stories expand into the realm of legend and myth. At turns sidesplitting and bone-chilling, Mr. Burns also features an unusual approach for the Fools: each act will be staged in a different theater space in the Broadwater complex, transporting the audience as we search for the light.
Performing in the Broadwater Black Box, Second Stage and Mainstage. (Use Black Box entrance at 6322 Santa Monica Blvd.)
Reception follows the opening night show on Friday, October 13
"...fantastic... brilliant... an outstanding achievement... smart and witty... So do you want to reward small theatre that makes big, incredible art? Buy a ticket for Mr. Burns... L.A. theatre is stepping up. Let's be there to greet it." -Terry Morgan, Stage Raw
"CRITIC'S CHOICE... spectacular... weird, creepy and, as its title character would proclaim it, 'Excellent!'" -Philip Brandes, L.A. Times
"...remarkable... a complicated allegory... alternately funny and chilling..." -Anthony Byrnes, KCRW
"...sensationally directed, performed, and designed... achieves event status... a fall-season must-see." -Steven Stanley, StageScene L.A.
"A triumph for Sacred Fools... You completely blew my mind." -Stephen Fife, Better Lemons
"...a breathtaking piece of theatre." -Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes
REVIEWS FROM PAST PRODUCTIONS:
"...both scary and sweet, funny but dead serious, unique and wonderfully theatrical." -TIME Magazine
"...makes us appreciate anew the profound value of storytelling in and of itself." -The New York Times
"Anne Washburn's hypnotic, sly and fiendishly insinuating Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play... does the improbable: It makes the end of civilization seem like the perfect time to create glowing objects of wonder and beauty." -Time Out New York
TWO L.A. DRAMA CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS!
Direction - Jaime Robledo
Set Design - Joel Daavid
plus - one nomination for Costume Design - Linda Muggeridge with Aviva Pressman (masks)
TWO STAGE RAW AWARDS!
Set Design - Joel Daavid
plus - five further nominations:
Production of the Year
Direction - Jaime Robledo
Costume Design - Linda Muggeridge
Choreography - Lauren Van Kurin, Erin Parks & Jaime Robledo
Friday, October 20: DONATE WHAT YOU CAN. It's "Pay What You Can" with a twist! Half of all proceeds for this performance will be donated to Direct Relief, a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies. Purchase tickets now!
What's your post-electric survival role? In the post-electric world, you've found a group of people to survive with. What role would you take on in this apocalypse survival team? Take the quiz to find out!
as Matt / Scratchy
Heather Roberts as Jenny / Marge
Tracey A. Leigh as Maria / Bart
Joe Hernandez-Kolski as Sam / Homer
Tegan Ashton Cohan as Colleen / Itchy
Eric Curtis Johnson as Gibson / Burns
Dagney Kerr as Quincy / Lisa
Emily Clark as Edna
Aaron Mendelson as Ned
as Matt / Scratchy
Ashley Eskew as Jenny / Marge
Dana DeRuyck as Maria / Bart
Michael Shaw Fisher as Sam / Homer
Jeff Scott Carey as Gibson / Burns
Adriana Colón as Colleen / Itchy / Quincy / Lisa
Shiah Luna / Crystal Keith as Edna
Produced for Sacred Fools by Brian W. Wallis
Associate Producer - Allison Faith Sulock
Assistant Director - Matt Almos
Stage Manager - Ellen Boener
Assistant Stage Manager - Jeff Dinnell
Musical Director - Ryan Thomas Johnson
Associate Musical Director - Emily Clark
Set Designer - Joel Daavid
Associate Set Designer - DeAnne Millais
Scenic Charge - Marine Walton
Assistant Scenic Artists - Joyce Hutter & Paul Sheargold
Scenic Painter - Summer Reese
Lighting Designer - Matthew Richter
Sound Designer - Jaime Robledo
Costume Designer - Linda Muggeridge
Mask Designers - Linda Muggeridge & Aviva Pressman
Makeup Designer / Costume Assistant - Mandi Moss
Prop Designer - Brandon Clark
Choreographers (Act II) - Lauren Van Kurin & Erin Parks
Choreographer (Act III) - Jaime Robledo
Fight Director - Edgar Landa
Build Crew - Tor Brown, Drew Fitzsimmons & Will McMichael
Run Crew - Kaitlin Ruby
Publicity & Show Photography - Jessica Sherman Photography
Graphic Design - Katelyn Schiller
- Sacred Fools Company Member
"Mr. Burns, a post-electric play" is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC.
Ⓒ 2017 KPFK / Digital Village
Ⓒ 2017 L.A. Theatre Bites
The Best of LA Theater 2017
Imagine there’s been a national crisis: society is breaking down, the electrical grid is toast and the only thing keeping things together is our collective memory of The Simpsons. That’s roughly the setup for Anne Washburn’s epic play Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. There’s part of me that wanted the third act to be more profound and the style more refined but there’s no arguing with Sacred Fools commitment to the play.
Ⓒ 2017 KCRW / Backstage
Meaningless entertainment, on the other hand, is actually really hard
Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns is a complicated allegory that weaves pop culture references into an alternately funny and chilling tale. It's one of those plays that allow viewers to read into it their own personal take.
We're in the forest around a glowing campfire. It's night. Something terrible has happened, like national emergency terrible, something to do with power plants and radiation. It's bad. So to keep a grip on some kind of sanity, we're sitting around the fire while folks try to retell an episode of The Simpsons from memory.
Remember memory? From before smart phones?
Because of the tragedy there's no power, so this group of folks is cobbling the episode together, trying to put the pieces in place. It's charming, it's funny -- until suddenly they hear a rustling in the bushes and everyone pulls their guns.
That's the opening of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn and that dynamic between charming, maybe meaningless, fun and imminent danger is the secret to its success.
The play is a remarkable two-and-a-half-hour journey that carries its audience across three theaters, 75 years and almost as many performance styles. The company, Sacred Fools, has thrown everything they've got behind the production transforming their three theater spaces into an immersive funhouse of sorts to house the production's three separate acts which are so stylistically different that were it not for the post-apocalyptic Simpsons revering through-line they could easily be three separate plays.
Act One happens in that dimly lit forest maybe a few months after the disaster. Act Two seven years later and the final act a full 75 years after the collapse of civilization -- or at least electric civilization.
Ms. Washburn's play is a complicated allegory that weaves pop culture references into an alternately funny and chilling tale. It's one of those plays that allow viewers to read into it their own personal take. For the diehard Simpsons fan, it's sort of a piece of fan fiction. For those who fear the world is about to end and our institutions are crumbling, it's a cautionary if comic tale. For theater people, it's an ode to the complicated reasons we gather in dark rooms to tell stories.
Why do tribes, of all types, gather to hear the ancient tales? Why do we choose to re-enact the sacred, and the profane, through these elaborate rituals?
One way to read, or watch, Ms. Washburn's play is as a journey backward through theater history: beginning in that forest with naturalism, travelling next door in Act Two for variety-show-presentational-comedy, and ending in a foot-lighted vaudeville theater for something loosely akin to commedia dell'arte meets Gilbert and Sullivan.
Part of me wishes this journey had been a little more considered with a third act payoff more profound. But that's not this play, and in some ways it shouldn't be. One of the actors says as much in Act Two:
"Meaning is everywhere. We get Meaning for free, whether we like it or not. Meaningless Entertainment, on the other hand, is actually really hard."
And she's right. But there's more to Mr. Burns, a post-electric play than meaningless entertainment. Here's to Sacred Fools for committing so completely to a big play. And while you might find Act Three a little confounding, it's still definitely worth the trip. And do yourself a favor, watch The Simpsons' Cape Feare episode before you go.
Ⓒ 2017 KCRW / Opening the Curtain
After the recent Equity nonsense, wherein said organization did whatever it could to destroy our beloved 99-seat theatres, there was a general sense that L.A.'s theatrical scene was going to stagger backwards and falter. After taking a moment to regroup and catch their breath, however, our Angeleno theatre-making brethren seem to have responded to this premature death knell with a hearty "fuck you" to Equity's undertakers. Current shows such as Road Theatre Company's Stupid Kid, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble's Br'er Cotton and East West Players/Rogue Artists Ensemble's Kaidan Project brim with creativity and ambition. Perhaps topping them all in sheer chutzpah is Sacred Fools Theater Company's fantastic production of Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, which uses three separate stages to create its brilliant apocalyptic mirth.
In the very near future after an unspecified disaster has left the world without electrical power, a group of friends sit around a campfire. Matt (Scott Golden) is amusing the group by retelling the plot of the old Simpsons episode "Cape Feare," with the others filling in the bits he can't remember. Seven years later, this group has become one of many competing troupes that perform old Simpsons shows for the public, with Gibson (Eric Curtis Johnson) as its somewhat demanding lead. Seventy-five years after that, like an epic game of civilizational telephone, things have changed dramatically.
Golden is, appropriately enough, amusingly animated as storyteller Matt, proving that even just the recounting of a sitcom plot can be compelling in the hands of a terrific actor. Johnson steals the show in his dual roles: the decent but frustrated Gibson and a bravura rendering of another character I can't reveal, wherein he brings a rock-and-roll energy and sharp comedic chops to the piece. Tracey A. Leigh is good as troupe member Maria, particularly in her telling of a nuclear reactor story, and she steps up her game in another secret role where she plays an iconic character with the reverence of an actor now essaying a Greek tragedy. Dagney Kerr scores with a very funny performance as the actress Quincy, and the rest of the ensemble is top-notch.
Jaime Robledo proves yet again that he's one of the best directors in town, alive to every detail of the challenging material. Not only does he create three totally different environments that each feel real (kudos to Joel Daavid for his amazing trio of sets, the last of which is quite impressive), but he even makes the hallways in between the stages a part of the show. He nails the vibe of a spooky campfire, a backstage drama, and choreographed musical numbers, all the while keeping the show strong on a technical level - it's an outstanding achievement. Washburn's writing is smart and witty (for example, Matt realizing, post-apocalypse, that "people are not competent"), in its examination of the power of story and theatre to hold society together. If things get a tad strained in Act 3, it doesn't matter - this production smooths out any infelicities with its overflowing talent.
So do you want to reward small theatre that makes big, incredible art? Buy a ticket for Mr. Burns, and maybe for some other undersized shows with upsized ambitions. L.A. theatre is stepping up. Let's be there to greet it.
Ⓒ 2017 Stage Raw
In 'Mr. Burns,' Sacred Fools mines a classic 'Simpsons' episode for dark comedy
Never take your pop culture for granted. Today's animated sitcom might just turn out to be tomorrow's sacred text - an evolution ingeniously depicted by Sacred Fools Theater Company in the darkly comic futurist epic, "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play."
Over the course of three acts, an episode of "The Simpsons" becomes an unlikely cultural pillar as society rebuilds itself following the apocalyptic failure of the power grid. Comic wellsprings notwithstanding, playwright Anne Washburn's darker purpose is to explore our desperate need for storytelling - and theater in particular - as a structuring principle at the core of civilization.
Offering terrific value for a $15 ticket price, director Jaime Robledo and his stellar ensemble cast and technical crew make spectacular use of Sacred Fools' entire Broadwater multi-stage theater complex (formerly the Elephant Stages).
We begin in the intimate black box space, configured in the round, as a ragtag group of strangers gather around a campfire in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. To break the ice and ease hostilities, they take turns recalling the "Cape Feare" parody from "The Simpsons" Season 5, Episode 2 (easily searchable online and worth the 20-minute investment to best appreciate the references here). Even as they hilariously struggle to piece together fragments from memory, their fragile camaraderie is interrupted by menacing reminders that their world is a very dangerous place with all the bad behavior we know from "The Walking Dead," minus the zombies.
The audience moves to the venue's middle theater for the second act, set seven years later. By now the refugees have formed a traveling amateur theater troupe amid an emerging barter economy in which snippets of "Simpsons" dialogue and plots function as a kind of currency. Among the ruins of lost infrastructure, however, survival is still an iffy proposition.
The third act, presented in the largest theater, jumps 70 years ahead to a new set of characters performing a fully realized musical version of "Cape Feare," with score by Michael Friedman and lyrics by Washburn. In the intervening decades, the story of Bart (Tracey Leigh) and his demonic nemesis (Eric Curtis Johnson) have now transformed into an eerie cross between Victorian gaslight melodrama and Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. While elements of the original TV episode are still recognizable, they're filtered through the sensibilities of a future society for whom "The Simpsons" and its characters have taken on a very different meaning.
The whole elaborate environmental experience is weird, creepy and, as its title character would proclaim it, "Excellent!"
Ⓒ 2017 L.A. Times
"Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play" is difficult if not impossible to categorize. But that doesn't mean it's not a splendidly original and entertaining production. The play, written by Anne Washburn, is sometimes a dramedy, sometimes a musical, depending on which act we're talking about. And each act, by the way, is staged in an entirely different venue, so if you're sitting up front by the campfire in Act One, you may be in the back in the room, or up front center in Act Three.
Yes, Mr. Burns is the very same character from "The Simpsons." And the entire show, or at least one episode, becomes a morality play for this post-apocalyptic society.
The cast is amazing, transitioning in time and space over a 75-year span.
And it couldn't have been better executed than the way director Jaime Robledo was able to take something so oblique and give it a life of its own, however complex.
If you want to see something different in the way of theatre, check this out. And keep an open mind!
Ⓒ 2017 Hettie Lynne Hurtes
'Mr. Burns a post electric play': Ferocious and Thrilling
Hands down the best, 2nd-act dance choreography I've seen, to date, in L.A. Intimate Theater! Yes, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, gets a huge notation right at the beginning for a so-exciting-I-didn't-want-to-sit-in-my-seat, technically deft, showdown of style! Super accolades to choreographers Lauren Van Kurin and Erin Parks, and dance captain Dagney Kerr for one of the funniest, aggressively athletic performances by Sacred Fools Theatre Company (at least that I've ever seen). Every actor on stage knocked it out of the park!
I took my dad to this one. The guy who balks at the thought of being distracted from a crowded menu of Spaghetti Westerns, old Hollywood movie musicals and Sunday Football (thankfully it was Friday night!), i.e. theater's toughest audience, otherwise known as the, I'd rather not go-crowd.
This time however, theater caught a break. He loved it. So did I.
Mr. Burns, a post electric play written by Anne Washburn, directed by Jamie Robledo, scored by Michael Friedman and lyrics by Anne Washburn, slightly winds at the pace of a flickering ember at the start of its 3-act, 3-spaces staging, but ends with an electrifying finish.
After the collapse of civilization, a group of survivors keep the spark of human spirit alive by telling stories around a campfire. As the years wear on, these stories expand into the realm of legend and myth.
What is an audience immersive gathering around a campfire, recanting an episode of the popular cartoon series, The Simpsons, quickly reveals itself as a survivalist aftermath. Everyone is on the run. And those people careful enough to move in secret, share lists of survivor names as they travel, in order to find friends or relatives. The action is primarily driven by actor Scott Golden who sets a college-kegging turned hair-trigger outlaw tone as soon as a stranger arrives in the middle of the night to seek shelter with the group. Gibson (Eric Curtis Johnson) shares his own shortlist of survivors he's encountered from north of Boston, Massachusetts, where the fall-out has been particularly fierce.
The second act leads us through time 75 years later where, it is literally a dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest and funniest. A traveling theater company is trading and selling phrases and lines of The Simpsons to perform for bread and existence. The competition to acquire these artifacts is dangerous. Everyone's life is on the line.
The coup de gras is the final act, far in the future, where real history has been utterly replaced by the deified fiction of a complete Simpons episode as truth, where Bart Simpson (Tracey A. Leigh) and the evil Mr. Burns (Eric Curtis Johnson) go head to head in a chilling, Godzilla vs MegaGodzilla-like battle. Weaving both Greek chorus and Commedia dell'arte into the modern comedy these two actors take over this production with unbelievable power, skill and ruthlessness. The depths to which respectively, Leigh, amplifies a painful melancholic gravitas and Curtis, a frightening barbaric violence, has to be experienced first-hand to understand the charged emotional grandeur.
Robledo has done so much more than justice to Washburn's script. He has turned this into one of this company's finer presentations and as marvelously close to the spirit of the Sacred Fools Theatre Company in the way only this group can present such material.
Ⓒ 2017 Gia on the Move
Best of Los Angeles Theater 2017 - #1!
One of the great things about the Sacred Fools production of Anne Washburn's dystopian fantasy is that their theater has 3 separate spaces, and they are able to make use of a different one for each Act. This is absolutely ideal for Washburn's play, and I can honestly say that the Sacred Fools production was superior in every way to the one I saw in New York. More than that, I understood the play this time in a way that I hadn't before. That is, I saw how Ms. Washburn assembles the pieces of a broken civilization in Act I and gradually starts putting them back together again in what amounts to an heroic effort of mankind to recover our soul. It documents a great triumph of the imagination. Which is, quite simply, what this production is as well. A triumph for Sacred Fools, for director Jaime Robledo, and for the pitch-perfect company of actors, as well as for the production team under the leadership of Brian W. Wallis, with assistance from Alison Sulock and many others. It's unfair for me to single out any performances in what is truly a group effort, but I'm going to anyway. Tracey A. Leigh as "Bart" and Eric Curtis Johnson as "Mr Burns" just kept topping themselves in the final section in ways that I didn't think possible. All that I can say in return is "brava!" and "bravo!" You completely blew my mind. And tickets were only $15!!! Amazing.
Ⓒ 2017 Better Lemons
While Los Angeles may not have the artistic heritage of London or the Wall Street-inspired sense of theater as big business that New York City can boast, it does provide an excellent environment for a company of actors to create the kind of instant sense of community that Off-Off-Broadway used to specialize in (for example, The Open Theater's production of Jean-Claude van Itallie's The Serpent) before it priced itself out of such experiences. But witness the Sacred Fools production of Annie Washburn's brilliant, MR BURNS - A Post-Electric Play. Director Jaime Robledo starts out by putting us, the audience, in the center of a post-apocalyptic tragedy along with the actors, and his inventiveness never relents in bringing this key work of our time to vivid life.
This play originated at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre in Washington DC and then went to Playwrights Horizons in NYC, which is where I first saw it. The play received an ecstatic review in the New York Times, so there was a great clamor to see it. But the Playwrights Horizons stage is a proscenium, which proved far from ideal. Also, the play is written in three very distinct sections, which had to be presented there with two lengthy intermissions, so that set changes could be made. I recall having an argument about the play with a famous actress (who shall go unnamed) who was sitting next to me and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. "This is boring as crap," she kept murmuring. She stayed through the first intermission but then headed for the hills (or Joe Allen's bar) at the second intermission. Which was a true shame, since the last section is among the most remarkable writing I've seen from any play in the last decade.
The great thing about the Sacred Fools theater is that they have 3 separate spaces, and they make use of a different one for each Act. This is absolutely ideal for Ms Washburn's play, and I can honestly say that the Sacred Fools production was superior in every way to the one I saw in New York. More than that, I understood the play this time in a way that had not been apparent to me before. That is, I saw how Ms. Washburn assembles the pieces of a broken civilization in Act I and gradually starts putting them back together again in what amounts to an heroic effort of mankind. A triumph. Which is, quite simply, what this production is as well. A triumph for Sacred Fools, for director Jaime Robledo, and for the pitch-perfect company of actors, as well as for the production team under the leadership of Brian W. Wallis, with assistance from Alison Sulock and many others. It's unfair for me to single out any performances in what is truly a group effort, but I'm going to anyway. Tracey A. Leigh as "Bart" and Eric Curtis Johnson as Mr Burns just kept topping themselves in the final section in ways that I didn't think possible. All that I can say in return is "brava!" and "bravo!" You completely blew my mind.
The production is only scheduled to run until November 19, but a little birdy told me that there is a chance of an extension for a week or two longer. Here's hoping! I cannot even begin to describe the pleasures that await you in this production. And unlike all those bankers, I wouldn't give you a raw deal. (And even if I did, tickets are only $15 - less than a movie!)
Ⓒ 2017 Better Lemons
There is really only one Mr. Burns, and it is not Robert Burns, the poet, George Burns, the comedian, or Ken Burns, the filmmaker. No, Mr. Burns is a cartoon character, the flint-hearted, miserly tycoon who runs a nuclear power plant in the generic American town of Springfield, home of a family known as the Simpsons. Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn (score by Michael Friedman/lyrics by Anne Washburn), is a very dark comedy in three acts that takes place in a near-future, post-apocalyptic world. The downfall was caused by the collapse of nuclear power plants, which means deadly radiation, no electricity, with death and destruction on a monumental scale all across the country and maybe the world. The play is wildly complex, wonderfully imaginative as well as touching, unpredictable, very oddly reverential, and perhaps a touch irritating in a good way, the kind that challenges an audience.
In Act I, a quartet of survivors huddle around a campfire and try to reconstruct one of the most famous episodes of The Simpsons, the well-loved "Cape Feare." That episode has Side Show Bob, newly released from jail, on a mission to kill Bart. It is a spoof of the 1991 thriller, Cape Fear, which starred Robert De Niro, which was a remake of the 1962 film that starred Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck. The scene is rich comedy until the arrival of a stranger, who after some vetting, joins in the re-creation of "Cape Feare." Of course, there are lapses in their recollection of the episode, which has repercussions down the road.
Act II takes place seven years later, and the same group of people is now an ad hoc theatre company that stages reconstructions of The Simpsons in competition with other companies doing the same thing. It calls to mind the cutthroat competition of Elizabethan theatre. There is a semblance of an uneasy normalcy in the scene, a palpable fragility that is well warranted.
Under the imaginative, skillful direction of Jaime Robledo, this Sacred Fools production of Mr. Burns is a semi-immersive experience for the audience. The Sacred Fools venue, now known as the Broadwater, is a complex of three stages - Black Box, Second Stage, and Main Stage - and Mr. Burns uses them all, with the audience being guided from one venue to next. The first scene is performed in the Black Box at a very close proximity to the audience, some of whom could reach out and touch the players. Some members of the audience sit in camp chairs just like the ones the actors use. In the Second Stage, the actors rehearse on a stage that resembles a studio space lit by a skylight. When the show moves to the Main Stage for the third act, the venue is formal with an act curtain and footlights that must be lit by hand.
The third act is frankly disturbing with broad comedy that is cruel and evokes audience laughter that carries guilt. The playwright sets the scene seventy-five years in the future. The source Simpsons episode, "Cape Feare," is now couched in a semi-solemn ritual that features song and stylized movement. Taking a page from the Greeks, the actors perform masked, each mask representing a character from the world of the Simpsons. Ned Flanders is there, as well as Kent Brockman, Mrs. Krapabbel, Itchy and Scratchy, and more. In this evolved ritual, Side Show Bob is gone, and now Mr. Burns makes his appearance as a hideous, murderous villain. It is a breathtaking piece of theatre.
If ever there was an ensemble show, this is it. The cast plays the multiple roles with consummate skill, singing, dancing and acting with grand abandon and awesome dedication to the work. They are Scott Golden, Heather Roberts, Tracey A. Leigh, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Tegan Ashton Cohan, Eric Curtis Johnson, Dagney Kerr, Emily Clark and Aaron Mendelson. This cast will not be forgotten come awards season.
Produced by Brian Wallis, Mr. Burns is handsomely mounted in all three theatres with scenic design by Joel Daavid and associate set designer DeAnne Millais, with lighting by Matthew Richter; costumes are by Linda Muggeridge, who also designed the masks along with Aviva Pressman; props are by Brandon Clark; Act II choreography is done by Lauren Van Kurin and Erin Parks; sound design and Act III choreography are by Jaime Robledo; and Edgar Landa choreographed the fights.
Ⓒ 2017 Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes
Wow! With each of its three acts performed on a different stage of Sacred Fools' newly renamed (and spiffily remodeled) Broadwater complex on Santa Monica Blvd. and Lillian, the company's sensationally directed, performed, and designed Los Angeles Premiere of Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play achieves event status. Whether or not Washburn's audacious Drama Desk-nominated take on a post-Apocalyptic civilization is your cup of tea, for its adventurous execution alone, Mr. Burns is a fall-season must-see.
Following a nationwide nuclear meltdown, a handful of survivors (and audience members on all four sides of Sacred Fools' Broadwater Black Box) have gathered round an outdoor fire seeking both companionship and warmth while exchanging memories of... Episode Two of Season Five of The Simpsons.
You remember the one they're talking about (and if you don't, watch Cape Feare on YouTube right now). It's the episode in which longtime Bart Simpson nemesis Sideshow Bob gets released from the slammer with the intention of taking murderous revenge on the spiky-haired rascal who sent him there.
From this premise, TV writer Jon Vitti confectioned a distinctively Simpsonian satire of the 1991 remake of the 1962 suspense movie classic Cape Fear, an episode which apocalypse survivor Matt (Scott Golden) now attempts to reconstruct with the aid of half-a-dozen fellow forest dwellers, recollections as certain to provoke delighted chuckles of recognition from audience members as they do from Matt and his companions.
Things darken considerably when a stranger (Eric Curtis Johnson as Gibson) shows up uninvited to their makeshift camp, a man who like those seated around the fire carries with him a notebook filled with the names and ages of survivors he has encountered and those he hopes to locate should the exchange of information among strangers reveal a friend or loved one still alive.
Act Two takes us to the Broadwater Second Stage where the same group of survivors (give or take one or two) have now formed a theatrical troupe to recreate Simpsons episodes (and TV commercials depicting life as it once was) as their only palpable link to a past they can now hardly remember.
Post-intermission, we enter the Broadwater Mainstage where, seventy-five years having passed, a new generation of survivors is putting on a show, Cape Feare as a surreal thirty-minute indie-rock operetta in which Sideshow Bob's role as villain has been taken over by Springfield nuclear power plant owner Mr. Burns, those original campfire memories having morphed over eight decades into the stuff of legend.
If it's not already obvious, playwright Washburn has a lot on her mind, not only mankind's need for stories to pass on from generation to generation but also the power of theater to replicate life as we know (and as we knew) it.
Director Jaime Robledo at his most inspired and a supremely talented cast of actors - Tegan Ashton Cohan, Golden, Joe Hernandez-Kolski, Johnson, Tracey A. Leigh, and Heather Roberts - dazzle throughout, first in realistic mode, then (joined by Dagney Kerr) sitcom-style, and finally, with the addition of Emily Clark on piano and Aaron Mendelson on percussion, as musical theater performers, with special snaps to Johnson's powerful dramatic work, Kerr's particularly delicious brand of quirky, and Golden's spot-on "Homer Thompson" in Cape Feare's iconic "When I say Mrs. Thompson, you respond as Mr. Thompson" witness protection scene.
With three interconnected theatrical spaces (small, medium, and large) in a single complex, Sacred Fools may have an unfair advantage over other companies who've staged or will stage Mr. Burns, but no L.A. theatergoer is likely to protest the unique treat of seeing scenic designer Joel Daavid's trio of stylistically distinct sets, from haze-filled forest clearing to makeshift "TV studio" to fantastical pirate ship, created in collaboration with charge scenic artist Marine Walton.
Lighting designer Matthew Richter adds to the dazzle throughout as do Linda Muggeridge's extraordinarily eclectic costumes, the weird and wondrous Africanesque masks she and Aviva Pressman have designed for the Act Three fantasia (complemented by Mandi Moss's quirky makeup design), and Brandon Clark's equally impressive collection of props.
Robledo's sound design is a dramatic stunner as well, with choreographic kudos due Lauren Van Kurin and Erin Parks for Act Two's music video-ready medley of pre-meltdown Top 40 hits performed by Cohan, Golden, Hernandez-Kolski, Johnson, Kerr, Leigh, and Roberts like triple-threat pros under Ryan Thomas Johnson's expert musical direction.
A program In Memoriam pays tribute to composer Michael Friedman, whose infectiously discordant melodies in Act Three make Friedman's recent AIDS death at 41 a particularly devastating loss to American musical theater.
Additional deserved program credits are shared by Edgar Landa for some dynamic fight choreography, assistant director Matt Almos, associate music director Clark, associate set designer DeAnne Millais, assistant scenic artists Joyce Hutter and Paul Sheargold, scenic painter Summer Reese, costume assistant Moss, and dance captain Kerr.
Jeff Scot Carey, Adriana Colón, Dana DeRuyck, Ashley Eskew, Sean Faye, Shiah Luna, and Michael Shaw Fisher are understudies.
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play is produced for Sacred Fools by Brian W. Wallis. Allison Faith Sulock is associate producer. Ellen Boener is stage manager and Jeff Dinnell is assistant stage manager.
Overused as the term one-of-a-kind may be, I guarantee you've never seen anything quite like (or perhaps even remotely resembling) Mr. Burns. This "post-electric play" is sure to stick with you post-performance and beyond.
Ⓒ 2017 StageScene L.A.