By Axel Matfin
The stories that we tell and hear have an immense impact on our society and culture. From binge-watching a new show to downloading a book directly to the palm of our hand, we as humans have greater access to story, in all its mediums, than ever before. But what if that all went away? What if we were plunged into a dark age where all the stories and parables of our modern era disappeared? What if we were left with only the memories of our most impactful narratives? What would our narratives become? How would our stories change, and how would that define our culture? What happens to the copyright of a story in a world without law? Do stories belong to anyone? This April, Vancouver’s Little Mountain Lion Theatre Productions will engage with these questions in their performance of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play.
Written by American playwright Anne Washburn, Mr. Burns premiered May 2012 in Washington, D.C. and was met with reviews that galvanized it as a staple of modern experimental theatre. The play focuses on the survivors of a world-ending disaster as they gather around a campfire for the verbal re-telling of the now-classic Simpsons episode “Cape Feare.” For the second act, the play jumps ahead seven years, when these same survivors have formed a theatre troupe which travels the remains of the world performing television episodes, complete with commercials. In the third act, time jumps 75 years into a future still reeling from the fall of civilization where the theatre troupe has expanded their interpretation of TV lore into a full-on musical cabaret that reflects the new society.
Mr. Burns is fertile ground for the talents of director Madelyn Osbourne who, along with her team of designers and actors, has been preparing for opening night since late 2017. The evolving post-apocalyptic world of Mr. Burns provides ample room for a radical assembly of costumes, stage design, and character evolution that has Osbourne deeply engaged with the process of the production. She communicates with her team by connecting with their feelings.
“I asked our sound designer to bring in music that he felt defined what certain moments in the play should sound like, like even a Nirvana song that you know there’s no way it’s going to make it into the show,” Osbourne explains. “I’ve had a costume designer bring in sheet music. I don’t read sheet music, but she said: ‘It’s just the way the notes move here, that’s how I want the dress to be.’”
A key figure beside Osbourne is her composer and musical director Katerina Gimon who, after months of divining inspiration from Gilbert and Sullivan, as well as from the original 1962 Cape Fear film, has created a truly original score.
“I was going through wormholes of pop culture,” states Gimon when asked about her process on writing the original music. “A lot of this was already quite set,” – some songs are built into the show – “but the hardest thing was trying to find the moments where I could bring back certain melodies or melodic ideas so the structure would work for the actors and the audience.”
Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play runs from April 3-21 at Studio 1398.Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, the simpsons, theatre