In the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob gets out of jail and tries to kill Bart. The episode originally aired in 1993 in the series' fifth season. With The Simpsons' more than 600 episodes in reruns on TV, its world seems timeless if not ubiquitous.
Sitting around a campfire with a small group of friends, Matt (Rahim Glaspy) recounts the "Cape Feare" episode scene-by-scene in the opening act of Mr. Burns: a post electric play, currently running at Art Klub's rough-hewn space in St. Roch. He even explains how the cartoon mimicked the camera angles in the 1962 thriller Cape Fear (starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum), upon which the episode is based. The others chime in to repeat lines of Simpsons dialogue and correct plot points: Lisa had a pen pal.
It all goes well until a stranger approaches and panic takes over the circle.
They're not just passing time. They're living in a post-catastrophe world with no electricity. One of the few things that's certain is that the nation's electrical grid went down. Director Jon Greene, co-producer of The Radical Buffoon(s), manages the difficult balance between the joyous recounting of the finer points of Simpsons lore with the upheaval that creeps from the edges of darkness toward the center of the stage. Mahalia Abeo Tibbs delivers a powerful, emotionally fraught account of the moment a friend succumbed to the spreading chaos while in line at a convenience store after the disaster. But no matter how uncertain their world is, there's an easy comfort and humor provided by the pop culture they remember. Matt Reed, artistic director of co-producer Rockfire Theatre, is compellingly nervous as Gibson, the frazzled newcomer and entertaining in Gibson's impersonation of Sideshow Bob.
As the survivors adjust to their strange new world, which is somewhere in south Louisiana, they form a drama troupe and eke out a living performing Simpsons episodes for others. A music video montage is hilarious for its no-electricity production values, and though the "Hotline Bling" and Beyonce references are great, it goes on too long.
The reverence for The Simpsons builds as their world struggles to find some form of normalcy. The narrative leap to the final act is a big one, and it's initially brilliant with an entertaining Simpsons-inspired rap. There's also a change of performance space, and while the minimalist set of the first part is appropriate, Julian Wellisz and Max Skelton's relatively lavish Act 3 set is inspired. Playwright Anne Washburn's Act 3 is only 35 minutes, but it would have a much stronger impact at half that. Some elements are clever and surprising, but despite the cast's energy, the drama loses momentum.
There are a couple of drawn-out scenes, but Washburn's play is an entertaining and quirkily satisfying exploration of living on the edge of disaster. It appropriates popular culture without getting lost in it. Art Klub is an appropriately bare-bones venue for the context of the show. The cast is strong, and the production is polished in its vision and refreshingly scrappy in its low-budget execution.