Villanova Theatre Presents “Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play”



Jack Swick Staff Writer

Last Tuesday, Villanova Theatre opened its first show of 2018, with “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play.” It is a dark comedy that centers on a group of survivors living in a post-apocalyptic America who, in order to entertain themselves and take their minds off of their grim reality, attempt to remember  and retell “Cape Feare,” an episode of “The Simpsons.” The next act depicts the same characters seven years later, who have formed a theatre group that specializes in performing and recording “The Simpsons” episodes. 

By the final act, some 75 years later, “Cape Feare” has become a popular myth, and has been made into a musical play, with some of its details true to the original episode, and with some that have been noticeably altered through the years. In the post-apocalyptic world of “Mr. Burns,” pop culture becomes mythos, and characters learn to adapt to their harsh new reality while trying to recover remnants of a lost, more comfortable life.

One of the most notable aspects of “Mr. Burns” is its interesting treatment of the concept of entertainment. While retelling “Cape Feare,” the characters sometimes stand with their backs to the audience, completely engrossed in the storytelling. The audience watches the characters entertain one another and rejoice over remembering lines from the original episode—we are entertained by their entertainment. In the second act, we watch as the group acts as a small company, concerned not only with the art they are producing, but also their finances and worries over competitors. The lights remain on as the audience watches the characters change the set to meet not only their own acting needs, but also the changing needs of the play itself. The third act seems to exist in both the universe of “Mr. Burns,” in which the musical was created to entertain and teach the citizens of the post-apocalyptic world; and in our world, the universe of the audience, watching how the original story of “Cape Feare” has been artistically reworked throughout the play until its consummation in the musical of the third act.

“Mr. Burns” features an impressive acting performance that shines through the play’s structure, which makes sudden, fluid changes from dialogue both serious and light-hearted to breaking out in song. The players convey the dolefulness of  living in a world in which all of one’s loved ones are presumably dead. One can feel the anxiety in the actors’ voices as they fear radiation poisoning. This is juxtaposed with hilarious dialogue, as well as cheerful and nostalgic storytelling. As fast as turning on a switch, the actors break into song, displaying their palpable musical talent.

“Mr. Burns” is directed by Jill Harrison and will be shown in theatres every day from Feb. 6-18, except on Mondays. All shows are at Villanova Theatre in Vasey Hall.