Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Sacred Fools Theater Company
Extended through December 9
After the recent Equity nonsense, wherein said organization did whatever it could to destroy our beloved 99-seat theatres, there was a general sense that L.A.’s theatrical scene was going to stagger backwards and falter. After taking a moment to regroup and catch their breath, however, our Angeleno theatre-making brethren seem to have responded to this premature death knell with a hearty “fuck you” to Equity’s undertakers. Current shows such as Road Theatre Company’s Stupid Kid, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s Br’er Cotton and East West Players/Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Kaidan Project brim with creativity and ambition. Perhaps topping them all in sheer chutzpah is Sacred Fools Theater Company’s fantastic production of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, which uses three separate stages to create its brilliant apocalyptic mirth.
In the very near future after an unspecified disaster has left the world without electrical power, a group of friends sit around a campfire. Matt (Scott Golden) is amusing the group by retelling the plot of the old Simpsons episode “Cape Feare,” with the others filling in the bits he can’t remember. Seven years later, this group has become one of many competing troupes that perform old Simpsons shows for the public, with Gibson (Eric Curtis Johnson) as its somewhat demanding lead. Seventy-five years after that, like an epic game of civilizational telephone, things have changed dramatically.
Golden is, appropriately enough, amusingly animated as storyteller Matt, proving that even just the recounting of a sitcom plot can be compelling in the hands of a terrific actor. Johnson steals the show in his dual roles: the decent but frustrated Gibson and a bravura rendering of another character I can’t reveal, wherein he brings a rock-and-roll energy and sharp comedic chops to the piece. Tracey A. Leigh is good as troupe member Maria, particularly in her telling of a nuclear reactor story, and she steps up her game in another secret role where she plays an iconic character with the reverence of an actor now essaying a Greek tragedy. Dagney Kerr scores with a very funny performance as the actress Quincy, and the rest of the ensemble is top-notch.
Jaime Robledo proves yet again that he’s one of the best directors in town, alive to every detail of the challenging material. Not only does he create three totally different environments that each feel real (kudos to Joel Daavid for his amazing trio of sets, the last of which is quite impressive), but he even makes the hallways in between the stages a part of the show. He nails the vibe of a spooky campfire, a backstage drama, and choreographed musical numbers, all the while keeping the show strong on a technical level — it’s an outstanding achievement. Washburn’s writing is smart and witty (for example, Matt realizing, post-apocalypse, that “people are not competent”), in its examination of the power of story and theatre to hold society together. If things get a tad strained in Act 3, it doesn’t matter — this production smooths out any infelicities with its overflowing talent.
So do you want to reward small theatre that makes big, incredible art? Buy a ticket for Mr. Burns, and maybe for some other undersized shows with upsized ambitions. L.A. theatre is stepping up. Let’s be there to greet it.
The Broadwater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles; Fri –Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun. 7 p.m.; Extended thru Dec. 9; www.sacredfools.org; Running time: two hours and 35 minutes with one intermission.