brian koch

‘Mr. Burns: A Post -Electric Play’ review: A Canticle for Homer

Portland Playhouse's production offers clever ideas but diffuse drama.

This must happen all the time in Oregon: a group of friends gather around a campfire in the woods, reminiscing about their favorite Simpsons episodes. “Remember the one where Sideshow Bob chases Bart around the ship, and they sing HMS Pinafore songs and….”

That’s what happens in the first act of Anne Washburn’s  Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, which runs through June 7 at Portland Playhouse. As the half dozen campers dimly try to recall the episode details, laughter and delight follow — until there’s a noise from the woods, and the guns come out.

Isaac Lamb, Brian Adrian Koch, Kemba Shannon, Cristi Miles in Portland Playhouse's "Mr. Burns." Photo:  Brud Giles.

Isaac Lamb, Brian Adrian Koch, Kemba Shannon, Cristi Miles in Portland Playhouse’s “Mr. Burns.” Photo: Brud Giles.

It’s something of a coup for Portland Playhouse to land a local production so soon after the show earned raves in New York. With its Oregon connections (Washburn is a Reed College alum, and of course Portland’s Matt Groening created the soon-to-be-mythical yellow family) and hip cultural references, Mr. Burns seems an ideal play (or as a program note terms it, a “thought experiment”) for here and now. The show’s sheer weirdness, gleeful eagerness to depart from theatrical convention, ingenious (if hardly original) concept and creative staging by director Brian Weaver do offer intermittent insights, chuckles and grins. And like another play currently running in Oregon, it’s also a testament to the social power of theater and storytelling. Ultimately, though, the story is too diffuse to achieve much more than cleverness.

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