Play Review: “Mr. Burns”

Photo from: Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University

What follows is a review by student writer Kyrie Hughes. The views do not represent the editorial opinions or content of The Siskiyou or Southern Oregon University.

The apocalypse has happened, the world is off the grid and our last hope is “The Simpsons?”

That’s what Anne Washburn wanted you to believe in her dark comedy, “Mr. Burns a Post-Electric Play.”  

This sold out play attempts to cover many heavy themes. Director Michael Hume told me, “We tried to find the right balance between light and dark.” I saw the dark, but the light was a rarity. This play is made up of three acts, yet because of the plot holes and time lapses it turns into three plays instead of one cohesive play.  Each act is a different time period after the world has ended.

Act one takes place in 2021, we open upon a campground with people dressed in ripped clothes and speaking about an episode of “The Simpsons.”  The audience does not know what has happened to the world until a new actor is introduced. The first act drags its feet by not only rehashing a single episode of “The Simpsons,” but by having a meaningless story told by an actress about a man she met in Walmart while she was getting batteries after the nuclear explosions that jumpstarted D-day. Her monologue has little to no point and does not further the actual plot. This act causes annoyance, confusion, and irritation.  

Act two is not much better. Taking place seven years later, we are shown the inside of a post apocalyptic community theater, where episodes of “The Simpsons,” are performed, as well as commercials. This act is riddled with plot holes which makes watching it even more difficult, not to mention the actors talking about Diet Coke for five straight minutes. At one point they even try to calculate how many Diet Cokes are left in the world. Who cares?

Photo from: Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University

Hold onto your hats folks because Act three is a whole new type of crazy.  We’ve now jumped 75 years into the future and “The Simpsons” is portrayed in a religious fashion.  At this point the single episode of “The Simpsons” that the cast has been talking about for the entire hour prior, is twisted and warped from its original storyline. In this version, “Mr. Burns” is an evil psychopath who wants to kill the Simpsons family. It is performed as a tale showing how the world became what it is.

Most audience members left the theater feeling frustrated and disappointed. “It just wasn’t my show to be totally honest…they [cast] did a great job, but it just wasn’t my play,” said fellow theater student Galen James-Heskett.  However, there were positive reviews as well.  “I liked it,”said Hunter Prutch. “I thought it was fresh and new. Just something different.”  

For as terrible as the play was as a whole, there were some shining aspects that kept me from leaving during intermission.  Nolan Sanchez, who both acted and performed music, had this to say about working the show: “It’s very draining and there’s a lot going on… but it’s worth it.”  This sound and music helped take away from the disaster that was act three.

The costume and prop crew had an immense task to accomplish and they did just that. According to Teresa Grote, who helped assist with costumes on “The Arabian Nights“ said, “They worked so hard on everything that I hope it comes across on stage.” By having three different time periods the costume designers had to create three different outfits for each actor, along with masks for act three. The props crew did a fantastic job creating the three different sets. Using creative and unique devices, they achieved a tall order to create a makeshift car, shower scene and a boathouse.

The actors are what truly kept me watching.  These Southern Oregon University actors plow through what seems to be an utterly unworkable play, with determination and confidence that is not lost on stage. A few that stood out were Hayley Thirlwall, Margaret Chambers and John Alan Hulbert.

Thirlwall, who played many characters including Marge Simpson, was fantastic in displaying her utter turmoil and dismay at every turn. “A pit of despair with a little bit of hope,” Thirlwall described.

Bart was incredibly portrayed by Margaret Chambers, who kept the perfect balance between darkness and a little humorous jab here and there.  

Yet the shining star throughout this show, was “Mr. Burns” himself, Hulbert. His portrayal of this evil murderer caused my skin to crawl and a chill go up my spine. He truly embodied the sick mindset of “Mr. Burns” and his hatred for the Simpsons. Overall, he was asked to play Satan, and he full on delivered. When asked how he felt about playing “Mr. Burns” Hulbert said, “It was so much fun, as well as sickening in the stomach…he’s much darker..more sinister..he’s icky to play…”

All in all, “Mr. Burns” was a chaotic play that was salvaged solely by the SOU cast and crew.  

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