The Simpsons achieved cult status years ago. It started off as a series of drop in shorts during the Tracy Ullman in 1987, but by 1989, the animated sitcom began its own run. It has recently been renewed through at least 2019, and is the longest running scripted television in history.
The satirical show has itself become a cultural touchstone, which is part of what makes Ann Washburn's play, Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play so intriguing. The Simpsons plays a key role in her post-apocalyptic tale. Milwaukee's Luminous Theatre launches their production Thursday, April 20, at a warehouse in River West called The Goat Palace.
Mr. Burns is set in three distinct time periods. It starts just a few months from now in an alternate future where the electrical grid has shut down. The play then jumps about 7 years ahead and then 75 years into the future. In each time period The Simpsons becomes a lens through which to experience the different things going on in the world of the characters.
"You have this mash-up of all sorts of different elements of pop culture in something that is based on the 'Cape Fear' episode of The Simpsons, but is really part operetta, part musical, part play, part allegory about good and evil and love and hate, and how society and people persevere," says Leda Hoffman, the director of Mr. Burns and artistic director of Luminous Theatre.
"It's all about, what things does a society hang onto to tell those stories, to investigate the big questions of life," says Hoffman. "That's what Shakespeare was doing, and arguably, that's what the writers of The Simpsons are doing, it's what Ann Washburn is doing [in] writing this play. We're all grappling with these questions, just in some very different ways."
The story is set in a kind of alternate future, but the plot is rooted in the real world. This can present an interesting conundrum for the actors portraying the characters who make the leap from modern day people trying to survive in extreme conditions, to people brought up in a post-apocalyptic society with a tenuous grasp of the past.
"The cast is so up for the challenge, because we really love the piece," says actor James Carrington. "We think it's cool, we think it's weird, we think it's crazy, and we just want the audience to fall in love with it as much as we have fallen in love with it."