Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Endless Night…Dawning Light?

This post-apocalyptic comedy-drama was written by Anne Washburn and directed by Brian Weaver (P/P’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot, 2 blocks North on 6th Ave.) through June 7th.  For more information, go to their site at www.portlandplayhouse.org or call 503-488-5822.

Question:  Where were you when the lights went out?  Answer:  In the dark.  Some say the final days of this earth, as we know it, will end in Fire.  And with all the recent technology in bomb-making and nuclear facilities, it seems very likely.  But, for the survivors, will our world be one of darkness…endless night…or a new beginning…dawning light.  And what memories will we carry of…the old world?

According to Washburn, it may be that we will carry images of our pop culture, in this case, The Simpsons.  She may be right, as we would likely hang on to “comfort food” to get us through the night.  (In my case, my comfort food would be the old TV series, Perry Mason.)  And, like a night-light or our favorite childhood toy (mine was a stuffed Panda bear) or blankie, it would soothe the “savage beast” within us, so that we could negotiate our way through a “brave, new world.”

I really can’t tell you too much about the plot, as that would be giving away discoveries a viewer should make.  But I can give you the flavor of it (which is what I prefer to do, anyway) so that you can make up your own mind if it suits your tastes.  And if it doesn’t, take a leap of faith, go ahead and see it anyway, as it may just open up new avenues of your understanding of things.

Act I begins outside, around a campfire with some survivors of what appears to be an explosion of a nuclear facility on the East Coast.  (Yes, the audience will actually be outside for this part of the show, and then move elsewhere, as well.)  One participant, Matt (Brian Adrian Koch), relishes in reciting, pretty much verbatim, an episode of that cartoon show called, Cape Fear (based on two movies of that title, one with Mitchum & Peck, the other with DeNiro & Nolte).

What is interesting is that it’s important to get the lines, characters and sequence of events exactly right.  It is as if they are, perhaps, like our ancestors at the dawning of civilization, passing down an oral tradition to future generations.  Into their midst comes an intruder, Gibson (Isaac Lamb), who is able to fill in some of the story.  They also go through a ritualistic reviewing of names of past people they knew, again, perhaps, so they won’t be forgotten and, if there is news, the list can be updated.

Act II takes place in the basement (a type of fall-out shelter?) in which the troop is rehearsing a play, which they will tour to other provinces, similar in style to story-telling but larger in scope of passing on oral traditions.  It is now seven years later.  Again, the focus is still the Simpsons but with music, song and dance now added.  And buying and selling of dialogue from the Simpsons has now become a business enterprise.

Act III takes place 75 years later and they are now on a stage and have resorted to a primitive (in look and presentation) of the same characters but now all a ritualistic, musical interpretation (a crude type of a Survivor episode and, maybe, Lord of the Flies).  Mr. Burns (Koch) has become the villain of the piece.  And Itchy (Laura Faye Smith) and Scratchy (Tobias Andersen) continue their antics.  Homer (Lamb) is still the dunce, and Lisa (Cristi Miles) the brain and Marge (Kemba Shannon), the faithful wife with the rascal, Bart (Jennifer Rowe), being the one obstacle in Burns’s way.  You’ll have to see for yourselves if the world survives and, if so, in what state.

This is clever in the execution, with the idea of traveling to different locations, as would the cast in both time and place, anyway.  This must have taken an enormous amount of rehearsal, as the actors must not only enact characters but dance, sing and play musical instruments.  Weaver has done a masterful job of tying it all together.  And Ashton Hull’s costumes in Act III are amazing, creating a possible whole new look to a futuristic world.

The actors are just fine, all having their moments to shine.  I especially liked Rowe’s interpretive way of presenting Bart in song and dance.  And Koch is riveting as the villain of the piece, Burns.  And, of course, you have the ole pros, Andersen, an icon of Portland theatre as an actor and director, and Smith and Lamb, both accomplished in musical theatre.  And add the talents of Miles and Shannon and you have an exceptional cast.

I recommend this show but know that it is not what you might have seen in a “traditional” play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

(A side note:  P/P’s Apprentice Company is staging Inhale, 9 Auditions on June 9th and 10th at 7 pm.  Tickets are $10.  This is a chance to see young actors at work and what talents they will bring to future productions.  I believe they need a chance to be seen and experienced.)