Most of the people who attend area opening nights, reviewers and Jeff members, in particular if a comedy, know when I am in the audience. I am a hard laugher and enjoy good comedy. I am telling you this, because many of my fellow audience members at tonight’s Midwest debut (and opening night) of Anne Washburn’s comedy/drama/musical, “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play” at Theater Wit, they thought I was missing in action. That is to say, I did not find the humor to be anything that would make me laugh. I may have smiled a few times, but those who know me, and my laugh, know when I am in the house! Tonight they did not hear me!
Now, it is possible, that since I am not a Simpsons nut, only having seen a few episodes over the years, that the humor of Ms Washburn was lost on me. But, I was not alone. The younger people who were (and perhaps still are) into the animated tv show, did find humor as prior episodes were somehow brought to life, live, on the stage of Theater Wit.
The story is told in three acts. The first is right after America has been burn during the apocalypse as the survivors begin the process of rebuilding. This act is done on a very dark stage as the characters sit before a fire and rebuild their lives through the memory of the power of Bart Simpson. The play, directed by Jeremy Wechsler, is dark in many areas and bright in many others as we watch the characters explore how pop culture of one era can evolve into something very different in the future. In this case, mythology! Bands of survivors feel the need to keep the Simpson characters alive in their minds and spirits so that life can go on as it was in the days of yore (they don’t say that, but it might have been funnier had they).
While several of the actors don Simpsons “costumes” and personas during the second act, it is the third act that almost made it for me as Mr. Burns took his revenge on this family that had driven him crazy for years. Having the cast of players become animated characters was not an easy task and I must say that Wechsler did get this done. Again, the Simpson Show “fanatics” roared at times, finding great comedy in the second act (7 years later) and the third (75 years later). Andrew Jessop pretty much steals his scenes as he takes on the role of Mr. Burns and the fight scene between Burns and Bart (at this time played by Leslie Ann Sheppard) is adorable, with some clever choreography by Geoff Coates. Other choreography was handled by Brigitte Ditmars.
Other cast members in this 2 hour and thirty minute animation come to life story are: Kelley Abell, as Mrs. Krabapel, Daniel Desmarias (Homer and others), Hannah Gomez (Lisa and others), Christina Hall (Itchy and others), Jeff Trainor (Homer and others) and Leah Urzendowski (Marge and Jenny). Their quick changes and characterizations were solid. Ah, if only the content were better!
There is music in the show under the direction of Andra Velis Simon, who along with Eric Engleson and Spencer Meeks compose the band. Mara Blumfeld and Mieka Van Der Ploeg did one heck of a job on the costumes and the props (of which there are very many) are handled by Jesse Gaffney. The lighting effects (Mike Durst) and sound (Christopher Kriz) were parts of the show that made the show easier to see and hear, but for the most part, the lighting was a bit too dark for my taste. I know that the director had something in mind for this darkness, and perhaps it was just that I am too old and too far from these cartoon characters to see the light!
You can see for yourself, and I will be glad to listen to your reactions and opinions. “Mr. Burns” will continue at Theater Wit , located at 1229 West Belmont through March 1st with performances as follows:
Sundays at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $25 Open Seating and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-975-8150 or online at www.TheaterWit.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Mr. Burns”
Parking is available on the streets (some metered, some not) and free parking at Coopers where cozy meals can be purchased before or after the theater.