If a nuclear apocalypse melted the world tomorrow, what would survive?
How about Bart Simpson?
“Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” a University of South Carolina theater production, imagines how society rebuilds after catastrophe and what stories people choose to remember and retell. The play will be Friday, Feb. 17-Saturday, Feb. 25 at Longstreet Theatre.
Written by Ann Washburn, the dark comedy begins with a small group of survivors gathered around a campfire in a chaotic new world without power, trying to recall an episode of “The Simpsons” – the “Cape Feare” episode specifically.
“I think the reason the playwright picked ‘The Simpsons’ is because it’s such a pervasive part of our culture,” director Jeremy Skidmore said. “It’s been on TV longer than any of the actors in the show have been alive.”
The animated sitcom that parodies American life and pop culture has been around since the late ’80s and has aired more than 600 episodes. The “Cape Feare” episode is a riff on the 1991 Martin Scorsese movie, “Cape Fear.” But you don’t have to be a fan of either to understand “Mr. Burns.”
In Act II of the play, the world is slightly more stable; there is a sense of society and rules, but still much uncertainty. Our band of survivors has become a traveling acting troupe that makes a living re-enacting “The Simpsons” episode, complete with commercials and Top 40 singles.
Fast-forward 75 years to Act III, and the “Cape Feare” episode has become a full-blown musical, and “The Simpsons” larger-than-life characters, now literary canon, are akin to Shakespeare.
“It’s kind of like a game of Telephone, but with ‘The Simpsons,’ ” first-year graduate student actor Darrell Johnston said. In the first two acts, Johnston plays Gibson, a guy lost and alone until he finds the campfire group, where he assimilates and becomes a key player in the acting troupe. In Act III, Johnston plays the title role of Mr. Burns, the villainous owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in “The Simpsons,” whose trademark phrase is slowly muttering “excellent” in a sinister voice. He’s also Homer Simpson’s boss.
By the end of the play, Mr. Burns is a huge character that draws from a range of influences, making him fun and challenging to play, Johnston said. “It’s Mr. Burns from ‘The Simpsons,’ plus 100.”
The play was a unique challenge for Skidmore as well.
“As a director, it’s a fun show to work on because each act is incredibly different in style and design. It’s almost like directing three plays in one,” he said.
The constant theme, though, remains how a culture decides what to keep, he added, which is part of what makes the play so fascinating.
Or as Mr. Burns would say, “Excellent.”
If you go
“Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play”
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 17-Saturday, Feb. 25.
WHERE: Longstreet Theatre, 1300 Greene St.
COST: $18; $12, students; $16, USC faculty and staff, military personnel and seniors.
TICKETS: For tickets, call (803) 777-2551 or visit the Longstreet Theatre box office.