Post-Apocalyptic Simpsons Take Reed’s Stage

Putting the “Homer” in “Homeric” 

This year’s mainstage production takes the equally zany and contemplative form of Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play. Set in a hypothetical future where a series of nuclear disasters have rendered the world free of electricity and ridden with radiation, Mr. Burns blends a gritty account of post-apocalyptic life with a heartfelt homage to theatre and cultural persistence, all through an intricate and far-reaching layering of references and adaptations. 

The play splits itself into three distinct acts, a span of seven years dividing the first and second, and seventy dividing the second and third. Daniel Yogi (‘25), who plays Homer and a member of the chorus, notes, “It’s a weird show. The first two acts are kind of their own thing, and then the third act is something completely different with a whole different cast.”

The first act kicks off with a motley group of displaced individuals recalling an episode from the fifth season of The Simpsons, Cape Feare (which itself is a parody of the 1962 film Cape Fear and its 1991 remake), as they huddle around a campfire and cast occasional glances out into their desolate and disaster-torn surroundings. Act two takes us to an afternoon seven years later, where the group works through a rehearsal of the same episode, which they are putting on as part of their traveling theatre troupe producing Simpsons-inspired shows; one of now many. Act three, set even further in the future, throws its audience into a striking pageant-play performance which can only be described as a bizarre, mythicized retelling of nuclear disaster intertwined with Simpsons lore and aesthetics.

Washburn began the writing process for Mr. Burns in 2008 by recruiting several friends involved in the New York theatre scene to get together and try to recall Simpsons episodes as best they could over the course of a few sittings. The group settled on Cape Feare, and after transcribing the conversation and teaming with composer Michael Friedman to create a score, Washburn had a solid final script, which wasn’t brought to the stage until its world premiere in 2012 at Washington D.C.’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. It has seen several productions since then, including various international productions in London, Australia, and Sweden. 

After two and a half years of finnegling creative solutions to roadblocks presented by the pandemic, Reed’s theatre department has been preparing to bring Mr. Burns to its own stage, this time fully in-person, with a full company of forty people, not including professors and staff involved. 

Will Stevens (‘23), who is assistant directing for the play, remarks, “It’s a really big show… probably the biggest show that’s happened in Reed theatre, at the very least in a while; both in terms of the amount of people that are involved, the amount of scenery and design elements that are involved, and the amount of singing and dancing that is in this show.”

Ever since the play had been decided upon last spring, members of the company have been working up imaginative ways of translating the post-apocalyptic atmosphere to the stage. A text both littered with and founded upon references to TV, film, and other theatrical works, all departments of the crew have delved into their creative repertoire to produce this love letter to the ever changing nature of the cultural conceptions of beloved stories.

“It’s an ode to the power and persistence of media, and how valued it can be to someone,” Yogi says, “we have those things we remember fondly from long ago, and even if we can’t remember every single detail correctly, we can remember enough that we still have that image in our heads and we still know what it made us feel.”

Stevens further extrapolates on Mr. Burns’ central themes: “The way that we value art and the effect it has in our lives; across the seventy-something years this play takes place over, to me that is the biggest change we see. It’s not just about how much of the original Simpsons they can actually remember, but the role it takes in their lives, whether it is just pure nostalgia, or completely throwing out an old system of values. Who cares how accurate or inaccurate it is to the original, let’s turn it into something new, something that matters to us.”

“It’s a really unique take on survival,” Juniper White ‘25, who plays a member of the chorus, adds, “It’s not like, ‘We can survive anything; things are always gonna get better!’ It’s optimistic, but the world is still chaotic. The forces that everyone is up against aren’t always enemies that you can know and understand; there is a lot in this play that nobody understands.”

As Stevens notes, Mr. Burns puts into theatrical production a sentiment articulated best by the words painted onto the traveling theatre troupe of Station Eleven’s caravan, in direct reference to the iconic Star Trek Voyager’s line: survival is insufficient. 

Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play runs from Nov. 11th-12th, and 17th-19th from 7:30-10:00 pm. Tickets are available at the door (for cash only) or on Eventbrite. (

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