A Short Response to Mr. Burns: a post-electric play by Anne Washburn

February 14, 2017. 

Reading and seeing Mr. Burns, a post-electric play were two completely necessary and significant experiences. Watching the show here at the University of Iowa helped inform my thoughts from the script itself; however, to those who had not read the play before seeing the show, they expressed confusion and even indifference to what they saw: it wasn’t a bad play but it wasn’t necessarily a good play. With this I began to think about what makes a good play and how Mr. Burns, which is an idea I adore and respect greatly, could be tweaked to be a more concise show.

Upon reading about the inspiration and collaborative start for this play—that being Washburn asked her actors to improvise and she simply recorded their efforts—I believe that the first act is fine, perhaps a little too long, but fine because it maintains a focus on the world of the play. As readers or spectators of the play, the first act constantly reminds us and recontextualizes the world of the play by having moments of recounting the Simpsons broken by the tension of a post-apocalyptic world. This tension is not present in the second act, until the very end of the act when gunfire erupts. While it is seven years later, the world needs to be re-established or make clearer the risks present in performing/telling stories in a post-apocalyptic world. The second act does not fully connect the piece as strongly as it could, and I could sense while watching it that even the actors were unsure how that particular segment tied the first act to the third act. Part of it may be the direction, but I think more than that there is something that needs revision in the script as well. Finally, in my very biased opinion, I think Act III is brilliant, down to its construction, its conceit, and the significance it holds to our modern-day world and what the evolution of story has come to: a mix of unsettling and hopeful material.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this play: it’s one I will keep in mind as inspiration as I move forward in writing my next piece. And the one after that. And the one after that. And so on.

Published by Alyssa C.

Writer & theatre artist from Iowa. Currently quarantining in the Pacific Northwest. MA in Intercultural Communication Studies from Shanghai Theatre Academy (expected 2021).

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