PEORIA, IL -- If you're up for a weird play that makes little sense but is extremely well done, see the current offering at Bradley University's Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. It runs through this weekend, Oct. 1-2.
The play is Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play by Anne Washburn.
The time is post-electric because the nuclear power plants have exploded so there's no electricity. Survivors at first gather round a campfire to entertain themselves by discussing what they remember from the past, the TV show The Simpsons. (The Simpsons? Why? How about Star Trek or Law and Order or Seinfeld or Cheers?)
They also discuss their plight, but neglect to adequately explain how they escaped the fires and radiation, then how they survive in this post-apocalyptic world.
In the second act, seven years later, the survivors work on a play to entertain audiences, apparently for pay or food. And here's a memorable line -- two lithium batteries is the price in trade for a diet coke.
The third act, 75 years later, is an opera that supposedly depicts the situation, again focusing on The Simpsons. It's a sort of satire of traditional operas.
All of this makes little sense. It's an absurdist drama, and its only appeal for me was to make me consider what a real disaster would mean -- for example, no electricity means no gasoline.
I read somewhere that if all the power plants, now running on computers, were hacked and destroyed, the nation as we know it could last only a few days until chaos ensued.
But the play's attempt to depict this world is an odd failure. The structure of the play has potential but the dialogue is weak, there's no character development, and the opera is way too long.
Nevertheless the complex play was very well performed with attractive and talented actors.
The play won a prize as best off-Broadway play in New York City, so the competition must have been weak. But it got a good review in the New York Times. Go figure.
-- Elaine Hopkins