Exploring questions about the purpose of art isn’t what you’d expect while watching a play inspired by the classic "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons. But "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play," written by Anne Washburn and directed by the Lyric Stage Company’s A. Nora Long, is far from a typical play.
At "Mr. Burns"’ beginning, a group of friends gather around a campfire to reminisce in the aftermath of a society-shattering apocalypse. Matt (Joseph Marrella), an enthusiast of "The Simpsons," asks the group to help him remember the iconic episode of the beloved TV comedy. And as time will tell, varying versions of the episode in question becomes this society’s folk tale passed down to future generations.
In the second act set seven years later, the same group of survivors formed a traveling theater company to tell the storied "Simpsons" tale and others from the show. The third act set 75 years later, is a play within the play: a polished version of this now-mythic story told as a "light opera."
Rebuilding society and culture
“[In act 2], we’ve recovered a little bit, we‘ve rebuilt enough to have a little bit of leisure, so now we have time to see an organized production, right? And then 75 years later [in act 3], we’ve built enough to where we can now go to the show,” explains music director Allyssa Jones.
The play’s musical accompaniment develops as society rebuilds from ground zero. Act one has no music, act two has just acapella and guitar bits and act three features sung lines and a toy orchestra.
“When we lose our way of life, what’s the purpose of art-making then,” asks Jones. “And then, once we start to get our grip back on the lives we lost, what’s the purpose of the storytelling and the art-making at that point? Does it have to change? I love asking those questions.”
A wide open musical canvas
Jones explains that Michael Friedman, the play’s composer, gives the musical director lots of freedom in his score — including the opportunity to create an a capella dance number in act 2.
“They gave us the text, the lyrics, but not the music, to leave it open. I got to compose a completely reimagined version of Britney Spears’ 'Toxic' with accordion and toy piano. It’s kind of crazy but it’s fun and sinister and I love it.”
The play’s increasing musical focus creates an immersive experience says Jones. “[It’s about] redirecting people’s mental and emotional energy into this story to find what’s relevant in that story for themselves.”
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play runs from April 8 to May 7 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston (140 Clarendon St., Boston). Tickets begin at $31 at lyricstage.com and 617-585-5678.