The hero of the new play at Mad Horse Theatre is neither man nor woman, but a cultural phenomenon known for being bratty and rude.
On Thursday, Mad Horse opens the dark comedy “Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play,” about a group of survivors of an apocalyptic nuclear explosion who seek normalcy by piecing together, from memory, the plot of their favorite episode of “The Simpsons” TV show. It’s the “Cape Feare” episode, in which Sideshow Bob, voiced by Kelsey Grammer, tries to kill Bart Simpson after getting out of jail. It’s a spoof of the 1962 film and its 1991 remake.
The 2012 play, written by Anne Washburn, takes the story to another level, spanning time and ritualizing pop culture in three acts. The first act is set in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, when a few survivors band together around a fire, seeking common ground around their favorite episode of “The Simpsons.” Act II is seven years later, as the same group of survivors now travels as a band of actors who perform the episode night after night.
Act III is 70 years later, and the episode has become an opera, performed in masks and presented as part of a passion play. It has taken on religious meaning and become an explanation for the nuclear breakdown and the myth and legend of a new society.
Director Reba Short said the play explores the intersection of pop culture and high art through the appeal of Bart Simpson. She is working with a cast of eight. It’s very much an ensemble piece, driven by the persona of the TV show and the heroic nature of the show’s central character. “It’s interesting how Bart becomes the hero of the story and becomes this Everyman hero,” she said. “Bart is Perseus. Bart is Luke Skywalker. He is every hero you can imagine who is kind of reluctant.”
It’s a complicated play with a lot of moving parts, not the least of which is the third act, presented as opera.
Portland blues musician Lex Jones and harpist Brittany Cook perform the music. The cast is includes Mad Horse members Brent Askari, Shannon Campbell, Jake Cote, Marie Stewart Harmon, Christine Louise Marshall and Allison McCall, along with guest artist Corey Gagne.
In her script notes, Washburn calls this “a beast of a play.” Marshall, the company’s artistic director, agrees. In a press release, Marshall said, “This is the kind of play that reminds you that when you concentrate on every single element of what we call ‘stagecraft,’ the payoff is so exciting. This ensemble is terrific, and the play is wonderfully mind-blowing. Fascinating. Eerily funny, if that makes sense.”
WHERE: Mad Horse Theatre, 24 Mosher St., South Portland
WHEN: Through May 21; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
TICKETS & INFO: $23 for adults, $20 for seniors and students; Pay What You Can dates are Thursday, May 4; Sunday, May 7; and Thursday, May 11. madhorse.com, 747-4148.