Not only bullet proof, ideas – and the stories we build on them – can even survive the apocalypse, as explored by Anne Washburn’s tremendous work, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. And not only survive, but grow, assimilate, and mutate. Over the course of this extraordinary production by Lightning Jar Theatre, we see the capacity stories have to provide comfort, to be used as currency, and evolve into myth.
Lightning Jar aren’t strangers to difficult projects and its incredible that Mr Burns is just their third production. After an audacious debut with Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, the company’s follow-up – a rousing and incendiary production of David Ives’ Venus In Fur – was just as stunning. Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play is bravura theatre, starting sparse and quiet before metaphorphising into the sort of Wagnarian, total art “gesamtkunstwerk” that entertains and resonates long after leaving the venue.
The first act opens gently, a loose collection of people keeping warm around a fire after an apocalyptic event. They find solace in recalling an episode of The Simpsons, Cape Feare. The low, flickering barrel provides the only light, otherwise they’re in gloom. The second jumps ahead a few years. Stories are not merely told for comfort, but also used as currency.
The group are now a troupe and through the use of rough, wonderfully compelling practical effects, we watch them rehearse the mostly-remember Simpsons, complete with commercial breaks. The final act is the real leap. Now decades later, the earlier performers are gone, but the story persists: A golden, garish, gorgeous retelling of Cape Feare that, even on its own, is as must-see as a work of art can get.
Washburn’s script across three such different acts demand much from the cast and all were up to the task. Lifted by exceptional design from Richard Vabre (Lighting), Sophie Woodward (Costume & Set), and Russell Goldsmith (Sound) – this was beautiful storytelling.
And hilarious too (lest the above give the impression the show is some funereal, pop culture, mashed-up memorial piece): Mark Yeates’ embodiment of a Sia music video, Dylan Watson’s transformation from unassuming survivor to mythic Mr Burns impersonation, the sonic and physical perfection that is the pop medley scene, a myriad of scenes and smaller moments will remind you how devilishly delicious black comedy can be.
Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 20 February 2019 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 10 March 2019
For more information, visit: www.lightningjartheatre.com for details.
Image: Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play – photo by Sarah Walker
Review: David Collins