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‘Mr. Burns’ Next Up at Brainerd Community Theatre

Imagine a world in the not-too-distant future without any electrical power. How would humankind survive? What vestiges of current culture would remain? And in what form?
This is the premise of Anne Washburn’s critically-acclaimed play ‘Mr. Burns—A Post-Electric Play,’ which is next up on the schedule for Brainerd Community Theatre. The show opens on November 30 at 7:30, with continued evening performances on December 1, 2, 7 and 8. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on December 9. All performances are in the Chalberg Theatre on the Brainerd campus of Central Lakes College.
Director Patrick Spradlin spoke of how this script was chosen. “We are always looking for plays that go a little farther in challenging our actors, our designers and our audiences. ‘Mr. Burns’ is certainly that kind of play, spanning nearly 100 years and including everything from TV pop culture to opera.”
The play begins in that future world without electricity. A group of people sit around a fire in the woods at night, telling stories. One story that emerges is an episode of the TV animated series ‘The Simpsons.’ Snippets are recalled from memory as the episode is reconstructed. “More than that,” says Spradlin, “we see how dangerous and uncertain a world without electricity would be. No refrigeration, no manufacturing, no light, and segments of society willing to use that to their advantage to prey upon others. And, with nuclear power plants’ safeguard measures disabled, there’s the added danger of invisible deadly radiation.”
The second act of the play takes us seven years past the first act’s events. The group we met, with a couple of notable additions, is now rehearsing a staged re-creation of the Simpson’s episode ‘Cape Feare,’ complete with commercials. Society has now become barter-based, and performance is a form of currency. The group struggles to recall details of the episode with as much accuracy as they can. They also try to recall what many of the food items mentioned in their commercial actually tasted like, since these commodities have long become a thing of the distant past.
Act three jumps ahead 70 years in time. A performance of the Simpson’s episode is given. However, this performance has only faint echoes of the original. Now, the Simpson’s characters have become the mythology of the culture, representing humanity in its best and worst aspects. The episode is now a near-religious morality play.
“What’s really fascinating about this play is the way it takes something that is so much a part of our popular culture, the Simpsons, and moves it in an arc through time until it becomes iconic,” says Spradlin. “How much of our mythology, our religion, our basis of civilization had its origins in something as mundane and ordinary as a Simpsons cartoon?”
Spradlin stresses that knowledge of, or love for, the Simpsons is not necessary to enjoy the play. “If you know this cartoon, and this particular episode, you’ll have more connection points with some of the particular references in the play. But it’s presented in a form and in a way that gives you all the background you may need.” 
He added, “The point of ‘Mr. Burns’ is not to re-create the Simpsons. It’s to take us on a journey where we may see how some of our closest-held beliefs may have begun in the most offhand of ways.”
The cast of ‘Mr. Burns’ includes some veteran area actors along with newcomers to the BCT stage. Marc Oliphant, Bri Keran, Rachael Kline and Laura Marsolek are well known for work they’ve done on various stages. Oliphant has had major roles in plays as varied as ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘The Seafarer,’ and ‘Noises Off.’ Keran has been acting on the BCT stage since childhood, in roles such as ‘The Madwoman of Chaillot,’ ‘Asylum,’ and ‘Steel Magnolias.’ Kline appeared most recently as the doomed Audrey in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at Stage North. Marsolek’s roles have included ‘Spamalot,’ ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘Relatively Speaking,’  at BCT and ‘She Loves Me’ at Pequot Lakes Community Theatre.
Emili Lane and Isaac Nadeu each make their second appearances with BCT. Lane was in last summer’s ‘Play On,’ while Nadeau performed several roles in ‘Spamalot.’
Mara Huber and Erik Sanbeck make their BCT debuts with this production. Huber last appeared on a stage in 6th grade, while Sanbeck has acted in high school productions prior to coming to CLC.
The design team includes George Marsolek, set designer and technical director; Dawn Marks, costume designer; and Ben Kent, lighting and sound designer. Choreography is by Stephanie White. Musical direction was shared by Sarah Aamot and Sarah Gorham, who also accompanies the singers in Act III. Paul Warmuth is production stage manager.
“This is not a Christmas play,” says Spradlin. “There are many holiday offerings out there. There’s nothing being done in this area to match the depth and complexity of ‘Mr. Burns.’ These actors and designers have taken on a monumental task, and they really bring a tough play to life. You’ll be challenged.”
Spradlin notes that some language in the play may not be suitable for children.
Tickets for ‘Mr. Burns’ are available from the CLC Theatre Box Office at (218) 855-8199 or online at www.clcperformingarts.com
The production is sponsored by Greater Lakes Performing Arts (GLAPA). The entire CLC Performing Arts Center season is made possible in part by an operating grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

About Jessie Perrine

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