The Hippo


Dec 16, 2018








Photo by Matthew Lomanno.

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play

Where: Shepard Auditorium, Pinkerton Academy, 5 Pinkerton St., Derry 
When: Friday, March 2, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 3, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, March 4, 2 p.m. 
Tickets: $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors 62+ 
More info:

Cartoon and catastrophe
The Simpsons goes post-apocalypse in Mr. Burns

By Angie Sykeny

 A purposefully bizarre new play that brings The Simpsons into a post-apocalyptic world will see its New Hampshire premiere when theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, opening March 2 at the Shepard Auditorium in Derry. 

The first act opens on a group of survivors after a nuclear catastrophe has wiped out the electrical grid and much of the population. Sitting around a fire, they find solace from their grim reality by reminiscing about The Simpsons, particularly the “Cape Feare” episode, a spoof on the 1962 film Cape Fear. The second act follows the same group seven years later as they form a theater troupe and perform Simpsons episodes, commercials and all, to the best of their recollection. 
“It’s a dark comedy for sure,” director Matt Cahoon said. “The way [the survivors] remember the episodes and commercials is hilariously funny, but it’s all against the backdrop of a major event that wiped out the population, so there’s a darkness to it.” 
In the third and final act, set 75 years after the second act, the theatrical Simpsons reenactments have evolved into a fully staged operetta with a mashup of references to pre-apocalypse pop culture. 
“It’s very disjointed,” Cahoon said. “There’s something interesting about how a tale told several times over many decades warps and changes, like a game of ‘telephone.’ The comedy of the original Simpsons episode is still there, but more broadly, it has become a story about the wrongs of mankind and how it led to this nuclear event.” 
The score in the third act combines the Simpsons theme song with music and dancing inspired by classic hits like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” and “Bye Bye Bye” by NSYNC. Complex a cappella harmonies are mixed with crude piano, guitar and percussion accompaniment. 
“It’s a tricky score — very limited and skeletal, with a lot of overlapping pieces,” musical director Candace Gatzoulis said, “but it’s interesting to see how people’s memories of music transcend time, and how the connections between those pieces turn into this full-scale musical.” 
Not commonly used as a theater performance venue, Shepard Auditorium is a 1950s-era decommissioned gymnasium on the campus of Pinkerton Academy, purposefully chosen by theatre KAPOW to enhance the mood of the play. 
“We liked the idea of the actors in the play finding this old gymnasium to perform in rather than an actual theater space,” Cahoon said. “It adds another level of complexity and gives our audience a different kind of experience.” 
One of the most intensive elements of the play, Cahoon said, is the costumes, which progress from post-apocalyptic, “Walking Dead-style” attire in the first act to Simpsons costumes, complete with wigs and masks, in Act 3. Cahoon and his crew have spent many hours building, texturing and painting 14 papier mache masks. The challenge, he said, is creating Simpsons costumes that are “slightly off,” as the characters in the play have a waning recollection of what the Simpsons actually looked like. 
“[The Simpsons] are still so present in our culture. They’re one Google search away,” Cahoon said. “Every time we sit down to work on the masks, someone will say, ‘I can’t quite remember what [the Simpsons character] looks like,’ and our first impulse is to pull out our phones, when, in fact, we should just go by what we remember rather than strict adherence to what they look like, because [in the play], they’re just a faded memory.” 
Mr. Burns is the second of three productions in theatre KAPOW’s 10th anniversary season “Faith and Story” series. The plays chosen explore faith in humanity or a higher power and provide insight on how storytelling contributes to the human experience, and Mr. Burns “fits perfectly” with that theme, Cahoon said. 
“[The characters in the play] are very active storytellers who have lost faith in humanity, but grab onto a cultural mythology,” he said. “It really speaks to human resilience and how people manage to survive, with entertainment being a central part of human existence.”

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