Audiences who attend Franklin & Marshall College's production of "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play," which opens Oct. 26, will drop into a world that once looked like their own.
The play opens upon a gathering of new acquaintances following an unnamed apocalyptic event. To pass the time and find common ground, they recap a TV episode of "The Simpsons," a communal reference to help deal with the impossible happening.
Theatre, Dance and Film Professor Rachel Anderson-Rabern brings "Mr. Burns," written by Anne Washburn in 2012, to campus this fall. In the play’s second act, set seven years later, that episode of "The Simpsons" constitutes the tattered remnants of a former culture.
“How do we substantiate morale in the aftermath of the terrible?” Anderson-Rabern said. “I wanted to propose something with ensemble flavor that would be an acting challenge for the cast. It’s a weird and inviting play because it blends different genres.”
The dark comedy jumps from realism to stylized musical theatre, culminating with a third act set 75 years later. Now we see "The Simpsons" characters in an imagined future where pop culture stands as the foundation.
“If we were to return to the origins of performance and community-making, what would remain and what would transform?” the director said.
"The Simpsons" are the ground upon which the play stands and a launching point, Anderson-Rabern said.
“The Simpsons asks and invites us to laugh at that which is truly terrible," she said. "Violence, insults, dysfunctional families and politics. Through this satirization, we see how laughter can be healing and can forge community. Laughter and tears are very closely linked.”
"Mr. Burns" may instigate campus discussion, said Anderson-Rabern.
“I also chose this play because I’m starting to ask myself some of the questions it asks in this sociopolitical moment: How close are we to disaster?" she said. "How do we know when it’s time to act? How do we contend with trauma, and how can the mundane and the entertaining go into a way of processing trauma?”
For the first time in the history of F&M, the Theatre, Dance, and Film department will produce a play written, directed and designed by women. Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Design Debra Holmes manages scenic and lighting design, staffer Ginny West designed the costumes, and sophomore Jordan Coscia designed props under Holmes’ mentorship. Senior Mihika Miranda directed the choreography and senior Jaymes Ngo directed the music.Performances of "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play" are at the Schnader Theater in the Roschel Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, through Saturday, Oct. 28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29. Tickets are $10 for the general public, $5 for faculty and professional staff, and $1 for students at fandm.edu/box-office or at 717-358-7193.