‘Mr. Burns’ Delights Audiences with a Symphony of the Absurd

The Black Box Theatre at McHenry County College is presenting Mr. Burns – A Post Electric Play by Anne Washburn through March 23.

Directed by Jay Geller, Mr. Burns is a play in three acts. It could best be described as experimental theater on acid.

Act 1 is dramatic – taking place in the direct aftermath of all U.S. nuclear power plants being destroyed, leading in turn to the collapse of the electrical grid. The players are a band of survivors who rely on pen and paper and reenactments of pop culture to entertain themselves. A particular favorite of the group is to recite episodes from the television show The Simpsons.

This leads to the underlying story element of the play – how stories evolve over time, taking on new meaning with each new telling.

Act 2 takes place seven years later, at a time when the survivors take to staged reenactments of Simpsons episodes. They are not the only ones. The entire society values these staged live versions of The Simpsons as different groups emerge to compete with one another.

In the current society, the players buy comedic lines from those who remember them from the original Simpsons episodes. Lithium batteries and Diet Coke are the currency of the day. At this point the show becomes a play with music, offering a smattering of songs amidst the dialog.

Act 3 takes place 75 years later. Now the show is a full blown sung-through musical of a specific episode of The Simpsons, with the characters and lines heavily bastardized through years of word of mouth transference.

If this sounds confusing, it is to a degree. But the fine acting of the troupe of players and the excellent direction powers through the compelling story. Geller is assisted in the direction of Mr. Burns by Music Director Katie Meyers, Choreographer Maggie McCord, Stage Manager Kathryn A. McCord, and Assistant Director Leslie Mueller.

The players all turn in stellar performances. The cast includes Jackson Nielsen, Avery Harvey, Derrick Wilson, Rachel Schneider, Gianah Tomczak, Joel Bennett, Charlie Sommer, and Spencer Alvarez.

Joel Bennett stands out throughout the show. His comedic skills are par none, providing not only laughs for his characters, but also setting up his fellow performers for laughs as well. Bennett’s characterization of Mr. Burns in the final act is worth the price of admission alone.

Of course Bennett is far from a one-man show. The entire cast is fantastic.

As splendid as the actors are in this fine production, shout outs must go out to Costume Designer Kathy Bruhnke and Assistant Costume Designer Kristi Geggie; Set Designer Thomas Kesling; Lighting Designer Rick Amudsen and Lighting Assistant Maxwell Robey; and Technical Directors Susanne Powell and Kent Wilson.

You have to come into the show with an open mind. If you do, you’ll have a delightful evening of entertainment.

Mr. Burns – A Post Electric Play plays Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 PM through March 23.  The Black Box Theatre is located in Building E at McHenry County College (8900 U.S. Highway 14, Crystal Lake, IL 60012). For ticket information contact jgeller@mchenry.edu or (815) 455-8746.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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