PAO production will turn Modern Theatre into post-apocalyptic world

February 19, 2020

We are bonded by the songs we listen to, TV shows we watch and books we read. But how much of the pop culture we love remains after a nuclear apocalypse takes it all away? The Performing Arts Office’s (PAO) production of “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” offers some of the answers.

The show takes place after an apocalypse destroys all forms of pop culture and a handful of survivors work together to recreate the media they can remember, such as an episode of “The Simpsons.” Over the next 75 years, the rendition of “The Simpsons” episode turns from a conversation around the campfire to a fully staged theatrical production.

While the play’s humor and characters aim to entertain the audience, the production’s larger message highlights the ways we care about things like music and videos as a society.

“It has something really interesting to say about our relationship to popular culture,” PAO and “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” director Kristin Baker said.

The ambitious play features three distinct acts, each directed by a different director. The PAO normally focuses on more traditional, shorter shows, but this season directors Baker and Antoine Gagnon said they felt they had the right cast and crew who were ready to tackle a difficult production like this.

“The most challenging part of this play is putting all three acts together in one cohesive show,” sophomore Casey Williamson, who will be playing the parts of Quincy and Lisa Simpson, said. “Each act has its own unique reasoning for it to be in the play, so trying to remember words and lyrics through all that chaos can be quite stressful.”

Since beginning rehearsals after returning from winter break, the cast has been working under tight time constraints to put the show together. They spend Monday through Thursday memorizing difficult lines, working together on how to develop their roles and incorporating live music into the performance.

“This has been one of the hardest shows I have ever worked on, just because there are so many components to it,” said senior Mollykate Rodenbush, who will be playing the part of Maria. “The characters and dialogue are very realistic and conversational, so finding the right pacing and remembering even the smallest of lines is key in creating the effect we hope to have.”

The eight person cast comes from a variety of performing backgrounds. Some have never been on stage while others are veterans of past PAO productions. Baker said she has enjoyed watching the mix of students from all walks of life on campus come together over the challenging material.

“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” incorporates humor, musical numbers and references to “The Simpsons,” but it is darker than PAO shows typically tend to go. Baker said she thinks it will be interesting for audience members to grab a cup of coffee after the play to talk about different scenes. Also, since the play is an ensemble piece, who the audience sees as the the show’s main role is subjective. She said it will be interesting to discuss which character was easiest to identify with.

“Who is the main character I think has a lot to do with who you connect with as an audience member,” said Baker.

Although producing the show has been a challenging process for the cast and crew, Baker and Gagnon stressed that it will be easy for the audience to follow along with the plot. Certain parts of the story may strike people differently, but there is a clear narrative that flows steadily. The directors said “Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” is thought-provoking without being confusing, so no one should walk out of the theater feeling puzzled.

On top of the entertaining dialogue, the crew has been toying with the idea of what would survive over decades into the future if we could no longer make a quick trip to Target to buy a jacket, for example. With intriguing costume designs and sets in store for the audience, the show will be a unique visual experience that’s “just a buffet of images and feelings,” said Gagnon.

Gagnon also added that unlike most theater in the area, this is a comprehensible show that you can’t find from any other outlet right now. Plus, it’s a play Suffolk students have easy access to, so he said they should consider taking advantage of this opportunity.

“Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play” will play at the Modern Theatre from Feb. 20 to Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are free and can be reserved online or inside the PAO office in room 310 of the Sawyer building.

Courtesy of the Performing Arts Office
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