University of Oregon’s last play of the 2016-17 season will be playwright Anne Washburn’s daring show “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.” “Mr. Burns” follows a group of survivors after global disaster as they recount “The Simpsons’” episode “Cape Feare.”
As the survivors try to rebuild society, the events of the TV episode become a part of the new cultural mythology. The play explores what our current cultural touchstones mean for future civilizations — will an episode of “The Simpsons” or another TV show be the story we tell hundreds of years from now? “Mr. Burns” strives to answer that question, or at least, to explore what happens as a story changes over time.
Check out our podcast with Nathan Shapiro, Jenna Gaitan and Ryan Sayegh below:
The Emerald spoke to a few of the show’s cast members about the rehearsal process, their characters and their favorite “Simpsons” episodes before one of the cast’s final dress rehearsals.
UO freshman Nathan Shapiro plays the titular Mr. Burns. A theater major who has been acting since high school, Shapiro said his character resembles a combination of some of the most well-known villains in pop culture. That list, to him, includes the Joker from “Batman” and Sideshow Bob from “The Simpsons.”
He has enjoyed channeling Burns’s vocal mannerisms and long dramatic speeches. “I enjoy his presence, stepping into that role, that side of personality that is twisted — it’s fun to experiment with being Mr. Burns,” Shapiro said of his character.
The actor noted the rehearsal process has been “loads of fun” and when he’s not at the theater, he looks forward to rehearsing with his fellow students. The cast members have a group chat where they talk about the show’s many layers, as well as have casual conversation.
Shapiro and many others in ”Mr. Burns” noted that the show is funny, but not in a typical gut-wrenching laughter way. Cast member Jenna Gaitan, a sophomore English major, plays a survivor in the first half of the show. Later on in the show she also plays a hybrid embodiment of “Itchy and Scratchy.”
Gaitan said that “Mr. Burns” carries an “Easter-egg sense of humor” that the audience might have to search for. The playwright ties in slight bits of humor throughout the show that often connect later on, according to Gaitan. Whether it’s a song or another pop culture reference, she noted that those who like “referential humor” will enjoy the show.
“Mr. Burns” not only has the potential for comedic moments, but also for melodrama. The final act of the show is a “full-blown musical” according to Shapiro. Though “Mr. Burns” isn’t a musical, the actors had to have some basic musical chops. Gaitan, whose last theater performance was in high school, said that she’s using her previous training in singing for the show, but that the singing has been a challenge so far.
Students had to sing a song a capella when auditioning, but director Tricia Rodley,a Theatre Arts instructor, stopped the typical audition process there. Ryan Sayegh, a sophomore biology major, had to recount an episode from a TV show as part of his audition. Sayegh told the story of a “Golden Girls” episode, “The Case of Libertine Bell.”
The cast and crew said that “Mr. Burns” is a complicated show and encouraged the audience to see it more than once to fully experience what the show has to offer. Despite having never seen an episode of “The Simpsons” in her life, Gaitan is excited for audiences to see the final product.
“It’s led to a couple moments in dress rehearsals where we are almost crying on stage,” Gaitan said. “It’s gotten so intense and real and wonderful.”
University Theatre’s “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play” by Anne Washburn is directed by Tricia Rodley. The show runs June 1-3 and 8-10 at 8 p.m. at the Hope Theater in the Miller Theatre Complex (1231 University Street). A matinee performance will take place on June 11 at 2 p.m. On Saturday, June 10, the cast, crew and director will participate in a talkback after the show.
Tickets are free for students with a valid UO ID or $10 for the general public. For more information, visit: tickets.uoregon.edu/mr-burns.
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