Making its debut in New Hampshire, Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, written by Anne Washburn, is a powerful, wildly funny musical that may offer a whole new perspective on the beloved, long-running television series, The Simpsons, all while staying true to its characters. Directed by Matt Cahoon, theatre KAPOW proudly presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play for one weekend only Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, New Hampshire. Click here for more information and for tickets.
Sleepless Critic: You work as a Professor of Politics, but you are also a director, you train and teach acting workshops, and have won quite a few New Hampshire Awards for your art. It’s safe to say theatre is your other love.
Peter Josephson: That’s true. I performed quite a lot in school and in my 20s, but left when I went to graduate school. For almost 20 years, I didn’t perform and got back into it again almost 10 years ago. Since I was very rusty, I sought out training and still train as well as teach. It’s been terrific to get back to it over the last decade.
SC: What is it like to perform with theatre KAPOW again? I understand you have taken the stage with them a few times.
PJ: Quite a few times and I find it valuable to go to other groups. I have friends there and learn a lot from them. I hope I bring something to them, but theatre KAPOW is home base for me in terms of performance. Since my first show in 2010, I’ve typically done 2 or 3 theatre KAPOW shows a year and help lead their trainings.
Matt and Carey are wonderful human beings and have built a theatre company that is always looking for the next exploration, the next way of learning how theatre works, and what we can do with it. Matt curates the season so we are not just doing a series of shows. We have an idea of how shows connect and build on one another. Last year, we did our first musical and Mr. Burns is our second.
SC: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is a unique opportunity to do that. The Simpsons have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and have made commentary on politics, entertainment, science, and current events. What do you think draws people to the Simpsons and as a professor of politics, do you think the Simpsons are insightful?
PJ: When The Simpsons first started, a lot of controversy surrounded the show because it seemed to snub its nose at family values and traditional morality. Some scholars take it very seriously as a contemporary text of America. I have had colleagues at other schools write about it and find it as a way to talk to students about serious concerns in contemporary politics. People wouldn’t watch it if the show weren’t crazy and funny. It helps them see more clearly what is going on in their own lives.
SC: Lately, The Simpsons have predicted a number of things that have come to fruition.
PJ: Unfortunately, that’s true. Hopefully the plot of the play doesn’t come true.
SC: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play has many layers to it. It’s about surviving an apocalypse and using stories from The Simpsons as a means for survival.
Matt and Carey brought the script to me last spring and I was really struck by how funny it was. It’s scary, shocking and underneath all of that, it’s an interesting story about how people use culture to work through their problems and how ideas of sacred truths develop culturally. It’s fascinating and I think Anne Washburn and the actors she worked with when she was writing the script are brilliant.
SC: You play dual roles as Gibson and Homer. Setting up a cartoon onstage and portraying a cartoon must have been a new kind of challenge.
PJ: Yes, it’s kind of weird and crazy. I would expect just about everybody in the audience knows who Homer is and I’m supposed to do that in some way, which isn’t really possible. I had to find a central trait about Homer, express that, and remind the audience who the character is. I play Homer in Act 3 and he is put into a different, darker environment. His response to that is what one would expect Homer’s response to be and that is everything is going to be wonderful.
SC: Mr. Burns is Homer’s adversary.
PJ: Yes, Rich plays Mr. Burns in Act 3 and Washburn’s script has taken the cartoon character, identified his corruption, and made that part the most essential thing. I would guess that if a Simpsons fan sees the show and then watches The Simpsons on television, they are going to see Mr. Burns in a different way.
In the second act, two actresses debate about what we do when we perform a play and whether the primary purpose is entertainment or to express some deeper meaning. I think Washburn’s script accomplishes both. Having worked on this play and going back and watching The Simpsons, I don’t look at Mr. Burns the same way anymore because I am aware of what Washburn saw in him and he’s deeper than I thought.
SC: Bringing the cartoon to life onstage is its own challenge. Some of the masks for the show are amazing.
Yes, they are wonderful. We’ll be using masks in late June for an original show we are working on. It’s an interesting acting challenge. The masks’ design elements are goofy crazy and I think we have really captured the cartoon-ish quality of the characters and the challenge is to take that quality and put it into actual living human beings.
SC: Regarding the musical element of the show, I understand it features popular songs from the last ten years.
PJ: Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Eminem, and Ricky Martin show up as well as some Gilbert and Sullivan. There are three acts and in the second act, we’re following a traveling theatre troupe and part of the show features a commercial jingle that we sing and part of the show features six or seven pop hits the audience might remember from a time when we had electricity. Act three is all singing in a peculiar operetta that is funny, crazy, and frightening.
SC: What do you think is the best reason people will enjoy Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play?
PJ: I think audiences will attach themselves to it because it speaks to something we are all looking for in wildly entertaining ways. It invites the audience in and makes them part of what is happening. I’m confident the show will resonate deeply with the audience and keep them laughing.
Click here for more information and for tickets as theatre KAPOW presents Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play from Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4 at Shepard Auditorium at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, NH. Follow theatre KAPOW on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events and more.