Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, June 23

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Call for Plants for (Provisional) Park at Co-Prosperity Sphere Vesna Jovanovic's Art Shows "Foreign Bodies" in Our Innards »

Theater Wed Jan 28 2015

Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play Lights Up Theater Wit

Photo by Charles Osgood.

Four survivors sit huddled around a fire, which provides the only light on the scene. Matt (Daniel Desmarais) is recreating a story from the past: an episode from "The Simpsons." Jenny (Leah Urzendowski) occasionally interrupts or adds a line. It's an eerie view of the near future or of our preliterate past--and of the power of storytelling.

In Theater Wit's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, playwright Anne Washburn foresees a time when power plants are down and the electric grid is dying. Director Jeremy Wechsler stages this dystopian comedy/drama with style and flair -- and suggests that survival might depend on our carrying on the mythology of the 26-year epic television series, "The Simpsons."

Act one, the campfire scene, takes place "in the very near future." The travelers have arrived separately and they query each other about the status of different locations. "Where did you come from?" "What's Framingham (or Stamford) like now?" "How's Boston?" "Boston is a mess." One says there was "a barricade around Bridgewater so I cut over to 95 and took that down to Providence. Providence was deserted, not even a lot of bodies...." Nuclear power plants go up and people flee the areas. Millstone, in Waterford. Oyster Point, near Asbury Park.

They quiz a new arrival about missing people. Each has a notebook with a list of names, which they read off in turn. No. No. That wasn't her. Not him either. It's reminiscent of a post-9/11 scene.

"The Simpsons" story Matt is reconstructing is the "Cape Feare" episode from season 5, which was itself a satire on two versions of the film Cape Fear from 1962 and 1991. The references to this story line continue throughout the play. Sideshow Bob (Jeff Trainor) appears, hellbent on murdering Bart, then rides under the car as the Simpsons drive to witness protection on a houseboat in -- yes -- Terror Lake. Mr. Burns (Andrew Jessop), owner of the nuclear plant where Homer works, appears with murderous intent.

Act two, seven years later, finds the crew in a makeshift TV production studio, with lighting from a skylight. They're making commercials about lives that no longer exist (iced drinks, hot bubble baths and lunch at Pret a Manger) and products that are being hoarded, like the Diet Coke collector in Denver. The commercials will accompany shows replicating various Simpsons episodes, to be shown on local stages as in the early days of theater. They're buying "lines" from people who have saved them from memory and competing with other companies -- like one that has produced 23, no 27, episodes.

Seven years after life as we know it has ended, intellectual property law has turned into caveman-style possession and murder (spoiler here). And they're still mourning for their lost world. "We're breathing, we're drinking, we're eating, it's all broken open, you know it has," says Gibson (Trainor).

Act three is 75 years later. Actors resembling Simpsons characters perform "The Shades of Springfield" about the days when the light died. Lists of names are intoned. And there's music from Gilbert and Sullivan. (Trainor does a fine "Three Little Maids From School Are We.") When the full stage is revealed, the Simpsons are ready to board their houseboat, despite obstruction from evildoers such as cartoon characters Itchy and Scratchy and Mr. Burns, armed with a cutlass. Everyone but Bart is dispatched to heaven and Marge, Homer and Lisa appear as angels, wearing shiny wings of foil and plastic wrap. Mr. Burns is fed to the piranhas. In the finale, lights come up on all the motley light fixtures in the theater. A curtain parts and we see Mr. Burns powering the generator on a bicycle -- until he falters and the lights -- go -- out -- again.

Trying to describe the narrative of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play is foolhardy. The story line is complex, but the production is immensely creative and well-acted by the cast of eight (Kelly Abell, Desmarais, Hannah Gomez, Christina Hall, Jessop, Leslie Ann Sbeppard, Trainor and Urzendowski). Costuming by Mara Blumenfeld and Mieke van der Ploeg goes from grunge to salvage to plastic bag and wrap and always enhances the characters' performances. Joe Schermoly's scene design and Mike Durst's lighting are visually brilliant.

Andra Velis Simon's music direction and Christopher Kriz' sound design make the most of the score by Michael Friedman with lyrics by Washburn. Musicians Eric Engleson, Spencer Meeks and Simon create the musical environment.

Washburn's play was commissioned by The Civilians, a New York-based theater company, and first produced in 2012 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington. It received an off-Broadway production in 2013 by Playwrights Horizons.

Here's a caveat for prospective ticket-buyers: This is a richly detailed, troubling and hilarious play. Many audience members appreciated the Simpsons' references and other pop culture in-jokes. But if you've never seen "The Simpsons" or have little memory of the show, you'll probably feel as if you landed on a distant planet.

Theater Wit will stage Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play through March 1 at 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Running time is 2:40 with two intermissions. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $25-38 and can be bought online or by calling 773-975-8150.

GB store
GB store

Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15