Mr. Burns Production History

Overview

  • Nearly all reviews spend the majority of time summarizing, explaining, and discussing their own interpretation of the play. There is little focus on individual production choices.
  • Reviews are highly opinionated- either raving or ranting.
  • Ensemble acting is a highlight.
  • Critics cannot agree on Act 3. It is either their favorite part or their least. Some were disturbed by its violence.
  • Most agree that you do not need to know much about The Simpsons or Cape Feare, but suggest that audiences have some knowledge for the best experience.
  • They prefer not to reveal much about what happens in the story, challenging viewers to enjoy the mystery and trying to piece together the show.
  • Critics also agree that the show is successful in getting people to talk about it, sharing different experiences and interpretations.
  • The play is 15 minutes too long.
  • Some critics note several audience members noticeably leaving at intermissions.
  • Best moments: Wal-Mart story, Gibson’s Act II breakdown,
  • Weakest moments: Act II, Act I opening
  • Shocking moments: End of act II

Click here to read my full summary of the reviews as well as a printable timeline.

2012, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington, D.C. 

  • Director: Steven Cosson
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: Premiere

Review: “…a breathtaking, brain-teasing evening that asks you to consider how pop culture is embraced, metabolized and reinterpreted through the filters of time and cataclysmic events.

Review: “Now you may be asking ‘how does all of this tie together’ and I am telling you, ‘I don’t know.'”

2013, Playwrights Horizon, New York City

  • Director: Steven Cosson
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Actors: The Civilians
  • Notable: Off-Broadway. Nominated for  Drama League Award. Uses Elizabethan theatre, commedia dell’arte, Noh, and opera

NYT Review: “When was the last time you met a play that was so smart it made your head spin?”

Review: “The play is both scary and sweet, funny but dead serious, unique and wonderfully theatrical.”

2014, Almeida Theatre, London

  • Director: Robert Icke
  • Composer: Orlando Gough and Michael Henry
  • Notable: Used a real campfire and candles.

Review: “This is a play that appears to have been calculated not just to annoy, but to actually distress, discomfort and dehydrate audiences.”

2015, Theatre Wit, Chicago

  • Director: Jeremy Wechsler
  • Composer: Michael Friedman

Review: “Washburn’s script has a very distinct kind of thrill, the one that kicks in when you have absolutely no idea where a play is going, except that it is not likely to be anyplace you recall being before in a theater.”

2015, Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis

  • Director: Mark Rucker
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: Used Elizabethan tragedy, operetta, kabuki, and Brecht

Review: “One way to look at it is that the performance style goes from campfire stories to traditional theatre to opera, but another way is that it goes backwards from the loose, improvisatory style of the first act to the heavily ritualized Greek drama that is the third.”

2015, R-S Theatrics, St. Louis

  • Director: Christina Rios
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: Audience sat onstage and Maria is pregnant during the first act.

Review: “You have never seen anything like it. That’s in a good way- albeit in a really, really strange one.”

2015, ACT Theatre, Seattle

  • Director: John Langes
  • Composer: Michael Friedman

Review: “After I summarized Mr. Burns for her, she said: ‘Yeah, that’s how Christianity started.’ Walsh described an ancient literary marketplace teeming with writers. Messiah stories were hot. The synoptic gospels as we know them began as ‘competing narratives that got ironed out in the public sphere, and some were more aesthetically successful than others,’ Walsh said. Some got canonized, some-the ones that were ‘a little freaky’ didn’t.”

Interview With The Director

Interview With Set Designer

2015, Unicorn Theatre, Kansas City

  • Director: Theodore Swetz
  • Composer: N/A

Review: “It challenges the audience to think and talk about the show… Some got it. Some did not. Some had different ideas about the show. And, that’s probably exactly what the playwright intended.”

2015, Phoenix Theatre, Indianapolis 

  • Director: Courtney Sale
  • Composer: N/A

Review: “I won’t say much more because a big part of the pleasure here is having no idea where the piece is going.”

2015, Stage West, Fort Worth

  • Director: Garret Storms
  • Composer: Michael Friedman

Review: “Perhaps the most surprising thing about Mr. Burns, a play littered with surprises, is just how scary it is…We tell ourselves stories about ourselves, about each other, about the world around us, and about what we just saw to make sense of what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen next. It reminds us to believe that what we are doing here matters, because our greatest, most palpable fear is that it doesn’t.”

2015, Mary Moody Northern Theatre, Austin, TX 

  • Director: David Long
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: “Cape Feare” played in the lobby before the show.

Review: “Washburn’s work is a think piece with worthy aims, but it fails to connect with the audience precisely because of its thesis. As a theatre audience we become intensely involved in the stories of the characters we meet in the first half… Once those personal touches are stripped away, we’re left with the grotesque outlines of the characters from the animated series, equally stripped of their distinctive qualities. The intellectual point is made- something to do with the power of myth- but it’s delivered in the first five minutes after the intermission. The music, the stark story bereft of nuance, and the stylized movement do little to elaborate or reinforce it.”

2016, Ringwald Theatre, Ferndale, MI

  • Director: Joe Bailey
  • Composer: N/A
  • Notable: The conductor was visible and costumed. They also had audiences sit on the stage during the first act and move their chairs for the remainder of the play.

Review: “But while the play, by Anne Washburn, can tax one’s patience and at times even beg the internal question, ‘What the hell is happening here?,’ and is most certainly 15-20 minutes too long, the totality of the play, and this production, should put a smile on one’s face by the final curtain.”

2016, Cleveland Public Theatre, Cleveland

  • Director: Matthew Wright
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: Aspects of Greek drama, melodrama, MTV, hip hop, and Noh

Review: “…only truly delivering on the brilliance of its concept in Act 3, with a jaw-dropper of a musical number… But the rehearsals for ‘The Simpsons’ recreations go on far too long, a risky proposition should we begin to get bored and realize we’d rather be watching the real thing on Fox.”

2016, freeFall Theatre, St. Petersburg, FL

  • Director: Eric Davis
  • Composer: Michael Friedman

Review: “It seems as though the playwright and cast are having fun, and who would want to begrudge that? Well, the audience, perhaps. The central premise is, for me, a little hard to buy, even for a vaguely avant-garde treatment of culture… it’s not exactly challenging, nor does it reflect the resourcefulness in human history.”

2016, Lyric Stage, Boston 

  • Director: A. Nora Long
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: “Performers peel off masks, revealing a series of masks underneath, recalling the ‘face changing’ Bian Lian performers in the Sichuan opera.” They also used the lighting rig to lower in found objects in the closing.

Review: “Still, it is way too convenient that no one wonders why America’s nuclear power plants simultaneously vented waste across the country. No curiosity, no anger, no wows of revenge for lost loved ones; there isn’t even a hunt for a scapegoat. American paranoia doesn’t exist: no anti-Semitic conspiracy theories… no talk about government tyranny, no anti-immigrant sentiments, nothing about Islamophobia. The bottom line is that Washburn and her collaborators among The Civilians decided to play is safe, offend no one, and avoided bold artistic and political choices.”

Click here to watch a video on how their masks were made or click here to see how their costuming and headpiece process.

2016, Illinois Theatre, Urbana, IL 

  • Director: Lisa Gaye Dixon
  • Composer: Michael Friedman

2016, Forward Theatre, Madison, WI

  • Director: Jennifer Uphoff-Gray
  • Composer: Michael Friedman
  • Notable: Re-used set pieces in different ways. Ie. a garbage bag was used as a backdrop and curtain.

Other Production Photos 

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