Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Against the backdrop of a nuclear wasteland, after society has crumbled and the majority of the population is gone, a group of survivors huddles around a campfire. In these desolate times when hope is all but lost, there’s only one place to turn: The Simpsons. McLean’s captivating performance of "Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play" explored the unifying power of stories as they are passed on, and altered, through the years.
The show premiered in 2012 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Written by Anne Washburn with music by Michael Friedman, "Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play" is set in a post-apocalyptic world as the few survivors bond over retelling episodes of the Simpsons cartoon. As the years pass, the stories become quintessential to the new society being formed, helping to unify and divide people in equal measure.
Setting the sinister tone for the show were carefully designed videos created by special effects team Megan Wright, Andrew Von Elm, Ethan Jones, and Scott Fulkerson. The team wove together clips of U.S. nuclear instruction videos from the 1950s, the episodes of The Simpsons referenced in the play, and long-term nuclear waste warnings accompanied by the blaring American emergency broadcast system sound. The videos were projected to the audience before the show and during the first intermission. These projections cast an eerie, ominous tone from the very start of the show, as well as providing useful context of The Simpsons.
As survivor Matt, Nathan Bass portrayed a traumatized character just trying to cope with the devastating reality. Bass’s enthusiastic voice and gestures when excitedly recalling the Simpsons episode “Cape Feare” revealed the comforting effect of the familiar story. Bass was also able to flawlessly depict the iconic character Homer Simpson in the survivors’ theatrical reenactments of Simpsons episodes, staring blankly into space and employing Homer’s signature slow and clueless manner of speaking.
Amid an atmosphere of fear and despair, the survivors found moments of human connection. Michaela Pearce (Maria) and Samantha Carey (Jenny) highlighted how their characters bonded over their love for the Simpsons through their excitement when remembering particularly funny lines. As the quiet and reserved Sam, Aldo Silva-Suarez revealed how his character slowly opened up to the other survivors over the course of the show. In act 1, Silva-Suarez carried an air of tension through tight body language. However, in act 2, Silva-Suarez’s more relaxed expressions and posture showed how Sam had grown more comfortable with his fellow survivors.
Sound designers Emma Springer, Maxwell Mlatisuma, Megan Wright, and Scott Fulkerson crafted a fully immersive sound that brought the audience fully into the post-apocalyptic world of Mr. Burns. Crickets and forest noises filled the air during acts 1 and 2, signifying the setting of the show. Each snap of a branch was loud and startling, reflecting the characters’ reactions to each unexpected noise.
The performance was rounded out by the “Shades of Springfield” ensemble. Moving in shuddering unison as they marched down the aisles, each member of the ensemble remained perfectly in character. Even during moments where they were not actively moving, the ensemble maintained intense eye contact with the audience, adding to the overall disturbing and eerie feel of act 3.
With talented acting ability and complex technical elements, McLean’s production of "Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play" revealed the importance of the stories we tell and how they can bring hope in both the best of times and the worst of times.
Westfield High School
When the nuclear apocalypse rolls around, what survives? Is it animals, people, or The Simpsons? (Spoiler alert: it’s the third.) Premiering at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in May, 2012, Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, a dark comedy written by Anne Washburn, was produced on the McLean High School stage, who created a rich experience that reveled in how both humanity, and pop culture, evolve after an apocalyptical catastrophe.
Following a nuclear power meltdown, four strangers, Nathan Bass (Matt), Samantha Carey (Jenny), Michaela Pearce (Maria), and Aldo Silva-Suarez (Sam) sat by a fire, recounting the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons, fostering a family-like dynamic through their mannerisms and interactions. Silva-Suarez’s grounded energy and Pearce’s jerky movements brought serious intensity to acts one and two, realistically portraying the traumatic impact the apocalypse had on its survivors. Attention to details like crackling branches and gusts of air showcased all four actors’ dagger-sharp reactions and subsequent abilities to transition from lighter to dire moments.
By act two, set seven years later, the band of survivors had now grown into a seven-person travelling theater company, who produced plays based on various episodes of The Simpsons. This act also welcomed a few standout figures like Quincy played by Aashna Kapur, who added much-needed comedic moments in the short commercial breaks.
Set seventy-five years after the world collapsed, what evolves next is a mythological opera, a borderline religious vision of pop culture. As the fog spread and the live orchestra, composed of Noah Chlan, Ben Taube, Tyler Hernandi, and Sadie Morgan, began a medley of iconic songs and original compositions, the perfectly synchronized ensemble assumed their positions, always staring at the audience and staying in character.
Then the spotlight followed Jackie House, whose eerie delivery and trademark laughter as Mr. Burns created a devilishly charismatic character, blending aspects of villains Sideshow Bob and Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. House's nemesis, Valentina Sedan’s Bart Simpson had impressive vocal abilities which intensified the drama, ending with a victorious belt as Bart dealt Burns’ killing blow. Another electrifying vocalist was Micah Chlan, portraying Edna Krabappel, whose voice and stage presence commanded the theater.
Before the production and between the acts, the audience was greeted with cleverly spliced videos of the exact Simpsons clips mentioned in the play, emergency broadcast messages, and government nuclear safety clips in a room adorned with tattered flyers, blood stains, and chain fences. Thanks to Megan Wright, Andrew Von Elm, Ethan Jones, and Scott Fulkerson, audiences were immediately introduced to the ominous world of the play.
The set team of Andrew Von Elm, Timo Brown, Cassie Bessette, and Leah Sexton managed to embed lore within every element such as seating in the audience in church pews to capture the religious undertones, the large Greek columns in act three to intensify the “mythos” theme, or little motifs in the graffiti of the theater space to remind audiences of the upended world. Quick transitions by Allie Vargo, Nico Colder, Cassie Bessette and Ethan Jones enabled the stage to go from forest with leaves and branches scattered everywhere to a theater hall in five minutes, then transitioning to the entire house of the theater filled with set pieces for the final act. The sets worked harmoniously with the detailed sound foleys and artistry from Emma Springer, Maxwell Mlatisuma, Megan Wright, and Scott Fulkerson, which built atmospheric tension. The overarching gothic ambiance could be further noted in the slow increase in radioactive injury makeup designs from Maia Le, Valentina Sedan, Emery Graninger, and Grace MacCracken.
With brilliant and meticulous attention to detail, McLean High School's rendition of Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play, was nothing short of exquisite.