By Taylor Jaseph, Apr. 26, 2022
Cal Poly Pomona’s Department of Theatre and New Dance is showcasing its second live play of the year, “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” bringing a blend of pop culture references in a post-apocalyptic era. The show opened on April 21.
“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play,” written by Anne Washburn, is set after a nuclear disaster causes an apocalypse. A group of survivors attempt to recreate the “Simpsons” episode “Cape Feare,” to bring art back into a ravaged world.
Bernardo Solano, theatre and new dance department chair and professor, is directing the play. In the past, it has become Solano’s wheelhouse to direct the musicals, but he was also attracted to the play’s themes and wanted to add his own spin to it.
“We have experienced our own version of our apocalyptic event and it’s not the end of the world, but it certainly affected our lives quite a bit and I think the people would resonate and identify, to some extent, with what’s going on in the play,” Solano said.
This play challenged the theatre department because of its traveling format with the three acts performed in three different areas, each with its own test to the actors.
The first act occurs outside in the courtyard of Cal Poly Pomona’s W. Keith & Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery. The actors had to adjust to the ambient noise they couldn’t control, like planes and birds. The second act is inside the department’s studio theater, which is a more controlled environment, but now the audience is just a few feet away from the stage. The third act takes place inside the main theater, with the actors now having a mic, so they now have another layer of voice adaptability.
Daisy Posadas, a liberal studies and acting theatre student, plays Bart Simpson in the musical third act. This is Posadas’ first live show with CPP, the other productions she acted in being through Zoom.
“It’s been such an experience that I’ve been longing for since COVID happened and we were deprived from it for a while,” Posadas said.
Although a pandemic is not a post-apocalyptic event, many people have gone through dark times the past couple years. Many looked for a way to find just a tiny bit of happiness and hope that better times lie ahead.
“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” encompasses this message. Here is a civilization wrought in despair, lost and mostly alone, trying to find happiness by recreating an episode from “The Simpsons.”
“That’s how I felt the play was,” said Franzetta Dorsey (’21, theatre), costume designer for the play. “That there’s all these people who are different and they’re coming from different backgrounds and places, but they’re just trying to rebuild their own way of civilization through theater, and for whatever reason, they picked ‘The Simpsons.’”
This is Dorsey’s first production for CPP, creating original costumes loosely based on “The Walking Dead” for act one and two, but she took ideas from recycled goods for the Simpsons’ costumes in act three by adding empty Hot Cheeto bags to Lisa’s dress or bottle tabs to Homer’s shirt because he’s a known drinker.
The play isn’t all humor. It may seem silly on the surface because it’s a group of people recreating an episode of “The Simpsons,” but there are darker tones that can’t be missed. Much of act one shows the direct aftermath of a nuclear disaster, poignantly seen by the character Maria’s monologue.
A scene that affects stage manager Alexis Secrist the most, a technical and design production theatre student, is when the group trying to recreate the episode run into another survivor. Every single one of the characters had a notebook filled with names of their lost loved ones and the names of everyone they met.
“Just thinking about putting yourself in that place where you have loved ones, friends and family that you are so lost from that you keep a book,” Secrist said. “And every person you meet you’re like, ‘have you seen this person?’ I can’t even imagine having my sister’s name in a book like that.”
“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” interweaves how hopeful and resilient humans are, that even in dark times, humans are capable of finding some joy. This joy just so happens to be with “The Simpsons.”
This play runs from April 21 to April 27, starting in the art museum’s courtyard.
Feature image courtesy of Chelsea Renee Sutton
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