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Theatre / Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play

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MATT: It starts... the episode starts with Bart getting letters saying 'I'm going to kill you, Bart'.
JENNY: Right... 'I'm going to kill you Bart'... because doesn't Lisa, doesn't she have a pen pal or something?

A 2012 play written by Anne Washburn, which explores how pop culture might work After the End.

It is 20 Minutes into the Future, and society has collapsed following a series of nuclear-based disasters. A group of survivors have found themselves brought together around a campfire in the wilderness. As a way of bonding and lifting their spirits, they begin to talk about their favourite episodes of The Simpsons, which soon results in an impromptu attempt to recite the events of the episode "Cape Feare". The events then jump forward seven years, at which point the survivors have become a theatre troupe performing their interpretation of the episode to audiences of other survivors, and seventy-five years, where the episode is still being performed - as an operatic morality play which has amalgamated myth and history into an allegorical epic about finding a reason to live in a harsh and unforgiving world where everyone and everything you love is gone.


Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Jenny can't remember whether Itchy is the cat and Scratchy is the mouse, or the other way round. This carries over into the play in Act 3:
    Mr. Burns: Itchy, Scratchy – whichever one you are.
  • Adaptation Expansion: While the confrontation on the houseboat takes up only a few minutes in the original episode, it forms almost the entirety of the play in Act 3.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: The play in Act 3 amplifies the villainy of some of the characters to better reflect the survivors' experience of the nuclear holocaust.
    • Mr. Burns, the Corrupt Corporate Executive of show, ends up taking Sideshow Bob's place as the villain who seeks to kill the Simpsons. Unlike both of them, this Mr. Burns is a Satanic figure who gleefully relishes in death and destruction. And he succeeds in killing everyone except Bart.
    • Itchy goes from a cartoon character to a very real demon that works for Mr. Burns.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Scratchy in the The Itchy & Scratchy Show was a genial character who the psychotic Itchy endlessly attacked without provocation. The Simpsons play in Act 3 casts Scratchy as Itchy's equally psychotic partner in crime.
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  • After the End: The play is set after a series of nuclear catastrophes has hit the United States.
  • And Man Grew Proud: The Simpsons episode gradually goes from being a way for the survivors to bond over shared cultural loves to a mythic representation of life before the collapse of society.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Mr. Burns demands that the audience clap if they want love to conquer hate.
  • Composite Character: In-Universe, after 75 years, Sideshow Bob is now Mr. Burns, a Satanic entity who also represents an avatar of radiation and death and incorporates elements of Robert Deniro's character from Cape Fear.
  • Creation Myth: The explosion of the "Springfield Nucyalur Power Tower" becomes the explanation for the apocalypse in the play in the third act.
  • Cue the Sun: The play concludes with an array of light bulbs brightening the stage for the first time since the apocalypse... courtesy of the actor playing Mr. Burns pedaling a stationary bicycle behind the set.
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  • Darker and Edgier: The original silly "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons is turned into a horrific and grandiose battle between good and evil where the world is destroyed and most of the Simpsons are violently killed.
  • Dark Reprise: In Act 3, the original troupe's renditions of "Toxic" by Britney Spears and "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons have become literal descriptions of the post-nuclear world.
  • The Dead Have Names: In the first act, it's become common for survivors to write down the names of others they've encountered and compare notes upon meeting someone new to find out if anyone has seen their loved ones. In the third act, these lists of names have been incorporated into the play and are chanted by the chorus while Troy McClure soliloquizes about mortality.
  • Death by Adaptation: In Act 3, everyone except Bart dies in the play. Springfield is destroyed by the nuclear meltdown and it's implied that the Simpsons family are the only ones who escaped. Mr. Burns kills the Simpsons family on the boat instead of tying them up before confronting Bart. And Bart kills Mr. Burns in their duel instead of stalling for the police to arrive (as they were likely dead at this point).
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: In-universe, it's stated that Mr. Burns is very popular with audiences, which proves to be problematic for the protagonists because they only have one play that features him ("The Springfield Files") and it isn't well regarded. Provides some foreshadowing for why Burns would eventually go on to replace Sideshow Bob in the final version of "Cape Feare."
  • Faux Affably Evil: Mr. Burns as he is portrayed in the Show Within a Show in the third act. He's bombastic and puts on a thinly-veiled mask of jocular civility, but is an evil demonic figure who relishes in death and destruction.
  • Freak Out!: In the second act, Gibson starts to have something of a panic attack when he starts to verbally recall the nuclear meltdown and the subsequent collapse of society afterward.
  • Future Imperfect: The Simpsons episode takes on very different forms over the years. Even in the (relative) present, the unreliable memories of the people reciting it result in it being slightly inaccurate; e.g., they recall Sideshow Bob writing letters in ketchup instead of blood, and the houseboat being surrounded by piranhas instead of electric eels.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: By the second act, the survivors seemed to have developed a gesture for this that involves pulling one's head forward until their forehead makes contact with your own. It's described as being "half comforting, half hostile, weirdly intimate, and not sexual." Sam uses it on Gibson to curb his Freak Out!.
  • Greek Chorus: The supporting characters in the third act form a chorus that comments on the struggle between Bart and Mr. Burns.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Bart faces Mr. Burns in a life-or-death sword fight.
  • Heroic BSoD: Bart in the third act falls into despair after his entire family is killed by Mr. Burns, and resigns himself to a quick death. However, the encouraging words of his family from beyond the grave influence him to keep fighting.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: In-universe; the villain of the episode is gradually changed from Sideshow Bob to Mr. Burns, who in turn goes from being an elderly Corrupt Corporate Executive as he is in the original show to being a Satanic deity of death and radiation.
  • Indestructible Edible: Diet Coke and lithium batteries become increasingly treasured as the years pass and the quantities left in existence dwindle.
  • In Medias Res: The first act of the play opens up with the survivors gathered around their campfire just as they're beginning to recall the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons. It's not made immediately obvious that this takes place sometime After the End.
  • Ironic Echo: "Stay away... forever."
  • Knuckle Tattoos: Mr. Burns has "Love" and "Hate" tattoos, referencing "Cape Feare" and The Night of the Hunter.
  • Minimalist Cast: The play begins with five survivors, later another survivor appears and joins the group. Seven years later, another survivor joins them. The actors (plus one) play another group of characters 75 years later, performing Mr. Burns.
  • Monster Clown: Mr. Burns is something of this, as a Composite Character with Sideshow Bob.
    (He is a clown gone terribly wrong: Sideshow Bob’s red dreadlocks have retracted into twin horn-like protuberances; he wears a sinister version of Burns’s three piece suit, and the red clown paint smeared around his mouth may be a distant echo of Heath Ledger’s Joker.)
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: Mr. Burns eats Maggie alive.
  • Mood Whiplash: Between the serious reality of their situation and reminiscing of funny moments from The Simpsons. It's especially notable in one moment where the survivors are talking about the nuclear meltdown, and after a quiet moment one of them suddenly remembers something about "Cape Feare".
  • Noodle Incident: The cause of the apocalypse is never explicitly stated in the play, and it's implied that the survivors themselves aren't really sure about what caused the collapse or what order things happened in.
  • Nothing but Hits: The troupe in Act 2 performs an a capella medley of 21st century pop hits, which in the third act becomes integrated into the play.
  • Overused Running Gag: Averted - despite it being one of the most iconic gags from the episode, and its being teased repeatedly over the course of the play, the rake gag is never actually performed.
  • Show Within a Show: The third act.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: In-Universe, Itchy and Scratchy become Mr. Burns' henchmen.
  • Weird Currency: Live theatrical recreations of The Simpsons become a cultural currency, with the actors trading food and pre-apocalypse consumer products for lines from the show that people can remember.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We don't know what became of the survivors after getting shot at.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Burns has no problem with killing the Simpson kids.

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