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Theater: 'Mr. Burns' brings 'The Simpsons' to the stage

"The Simpsons" comes to the stage. Can one cartoon family save humanity from postapocalyptic chaos?

Do these faces look somewhat familiar? Credit: Joan Marcus Do these faces look somewhat familiar?
Credit: Joan Marcus

If you’re looking for a theatrical fix of "The Simpsons," you might try Anne Washburn’s “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play” at Playwrights Horizons. But be careful what you wish for. Pre-electric may be more up your alley.

“Mr. Burns” begins with five refugees from some sort of cataclysmic event huddled in front of a fire, sitting on furniture ranging from a small loveseat to a lawn chair. At one point they characterize towns and cities (“Boston is a mess." "Providence is deserted.") and inquire about individuals.

But mostly they try to piece together the plot and dialogue from "The Simpsons" episode modeled on the movie Cape Fear, in which Sideshow Bob wants to kill Bart. The group’s attempt to reconstruct a television show, while the world is literally crumbling around them, is surprisingly engaging. It works because of its two levels: the humor of "The Simpsons" episode and the characters’ escapist involvement in it.

But then things go downhill. Seven years later the same characters are rehearsing a play, which seems somehow essential to their postapocalyptic survival. "The Simpsons" briefly creeps in again, but the immediacy of the first act is gone. Imitating the Simpsons is less compelling than discussing them. How can mere mortals compete with the real thing? The cartoon’s absence is even more acute in Act III, 75 years later, when the entire cast is in half-face performing a "Simpsons" operetta.

There’s an absurdist playfulness to “Mr. Burns” that’s appealing. But while the laughs continue, they diminish as the play progresses. The take-away is simple: you can’t trump "The Simpsons."

If you go

'Mr. Burns, a post-electric play'
Through Oct. 6
Playwrights Horizons,
416 West 42nd St.
Starting at $70,
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