Woolly Mammoth Theatre Companys production Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play depicts a post-apocalyptic society in which the characters coalesce around recounting a famous episode of the popular cartoon sitcom The Simpsons.
It wasn’t until the play’s director, Steve Cosson, contacted her with news of a commissioning grant, however, that she began to sculpt the nascent pop culture storyline into a fully realized production.
Washburn, Cosson and actors from the Civilians theater company in New York headed to a rehearsal space, which was, perhaps appropriately, in an empty bank vault under Wall Street. One actor began recounting “The Simpsons” episode, and the play began to take shape. Each character in the final play, incidentally, is named after the original actor who began to shape them and the first act is taken almost verbatim from those early sessions.
Washburn was also closely involved with bringing Woolly’s current production to fruition. She worked and reworked the script until almost the last minute.
A lot of work went into this production, she said, but she eventually gave over control and let the actors marinate with her words and the story.
High Art and Diet Coke
Like many of Woolly’s productions, this show is for the adventurous theatergoer. It is fun. It is thoughtful. Some parts, act I, for example, are stronger and the characters are more fully realized. Parts of the show are amusing, while others fall flat.
But one measure of a production’s success is how long the audience talks about it after leaving. My companion and I, at least, talked about it for hours — and that was probably the point.
We concluded that a traumatized post-industrial modern culture wouldn’t necessarily cling to the plays of William Shakespeare or the poetry of William Butler Yeats for comfort, at least not at first.
If Washburn’s scenario is accurate, most of us would miss television, the Internet, pop music we love to hate, bad wine, good wine and Diet Coke.
High art, Washburn suggests, requires moments of leisure to create, and leisure would be in short supply in a post-apocalyptic world.
“I think that high art would remain,” Washburn said. “But, you get Yeats and Shakespeare from a society that is stable.”