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Experimental, Eccentric “Mr. Burns” Shines

By Joanna Reid

Adelphi’s Theatre Department put on another successful show when “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” ran from Nov. 1 to 5 in the Olmstead Theatre. “Mr. Burns” was directed by Aileen Wen Mcgroody and written by Anne Washburn with music composed by Michael Friedman. This production was different from any of the shows this reporter has seen at Adelphi before.

Cast members from left: Nayajoy Dean-Colbert, Sarah Baileigh, Grace Lardner and Giavanna Keddy. Photo By Peter Frutkoff

This time, the creative team chose to utilize every part of the Olmstead. Instead of entering through the typical main doors, audience members were expected to come in through an alternate entrance, what is usually considered backstage. As soon as I entered, I was immersed in the dark post-apocalyptic world where the show is set. Actors could be seen gathered around a makeshift fire pit, as well as actors in velvety capes pacing around, shining flashlights as if they were searching for someone. Chairs for the audience were huddled around the sort of camp site. Being so close to the actors with no idea what was going to happen put me on edge, making me feel like I was living in this dystopian world too.

Between Acts 1 and 2, audience members were expected to move their seats to create more space for the actors, which is not something I was expecting. Then again, the entire show was unpredictable. While Act 1 essentially sets up the plot, having the characters begin to recall moments from “The Simpsons.” Act 2 is farther in the future where the characters have formed their own theater group.

Act 2 of Mr. Burns from left: Mary Elizabeth Walker, Isaiah Faircloth, Nayajoy Dean and Alyssa Infranco. Photo By Peter Frutkoff

The production’s scenic design and lighting design was some of the best I’ve seen executed at Adelphi thus far. The scenic design was worked on by John McDermott and Danielle Pecchioli. And the lighting design was done by Nic Vincent. I was mesmerized by the large projection at the end of Act 1 that illuminated the darkness. Although the set was fairly minimal, it worked well and made sense for people who were trying to recover from a catastrophic event.

Act 2 is basically one long scene of a bunch of actors pretending to put on a theatrical production involving “The Simpsons.” It was meta to watch theater students act as if they were putting on a show. They rushed back and forth, grabbing costumes and props. According to the cast, this wasn’t something that was really choreographed. It’s ironic and not easy to act as if you’re acting; however, this is something the cast had no trouble with.

Act 3 was a fever dream. When I re-entered the transformed Olmstead Theatre after intermission, chairs were directly in front of the curtain with a projection on it stating “70 years later.” The audience was still sitting in the backstage area. Then the curtain revealed the actors in the typical seating area of the Olmstead. In a way, it was the audience members who were actually the ones on stage and the actors were in the audience.

Act 3 was my favorite part because this is where the bulk of Friedman’s score came into play. Many of the actors got to showcase their additional talents with Nayajoy Dean-Colbert and Mel Rhodes on guitar, Grace Lardner on trombone and Giavanna Keddy on violin. I expected nothing less than a wild score from Friedman and that’s exactly what I was met with.

At heart “Mr. Burns” is really about the impact of how pop culture and art can allow people to find a sense of community and belonging. “The Simpsons” is something almost everyone has heard of even if they have never seen an episode. Something so widespread is able to give the characters comfort in a time of fear and later it gives the group inspiration to create art of their own.

On top of this, the characters seem to be reckoning with capitalism. Even in this post apocalyptic future, they are still expected to pay for the rights to put on their show that involves “The Simpsons.” The evil character from the TV show, Mr. Burns, is seemingly always out to get Bart. Mr. Burns follows the characters throughout the play and is sort of a physical representation of capitalism. Act 3 furthers this idea by having a giant puppet of Mr. Burns literally looming over the characters. It’s almost like the characters are unable to escape capitalism until they’re dead.

The entire cast and creative team did a phenomenal job putting on this show. I hope to see Adelphi’s Theatre Departure stage more shows that are as experimental and as eccentric as “Mr. Burns, a Post Electric Play" in the near future.

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