“Mr. Burns, a post electric play” at ACT

This is a “dark comedy” especially apt for English majors who like to sit around, smoke a little dope, and search out every cultural reference and deep significance embedded within the text. There is plenty here for those discussions—allusions to cave men, to the 14th C classic “The Decameron,” to the 1962 movie “Cape Fear” and its remake, and so much in between and after. The odd thing is that it’s all wrapped around “The Simpsons” of contemporary TV fame. It’s pop culture as cultural icon.

As the ambitious play begins, a small cadre of survivors of an unnamed apocalyptic event act out scenes from one of the Simpson shows, passionately act them out. They are really into it when suddenly a stranger walks in on their weird gathering. After the initial distrust, and a comparison of lists of survivors, they form a bond based on their love of “The Simpsons.” Some years later they are a travelling band of players (Ă  la the middle ages) and, over time, roam the countryside performing Simpson episodes. The only thing missing in this post apocalyptic world is religion, and by the end of the play, they even create that.

Since its first production in 2012 in Washington, D.C., “Mr. Burns . . .” has received incredibly different reviews. It has been called one of the most significant plays of our time, and it was even nominated for a Drama Critics Award in New York. Other reviewers have been considerably more negative. I’m with that latter group. I found it trying too hard to be too clever.

I’m not a regular watcher of “The Simpsons” so had no references for many of the non-family Simpson characters portrayed here. Though I did know that Mr. Burns was head of the nuclear plant in the TV show. Thus he serves well as the villain. Some say that you don’t have to be a Simpson fan to appreciate this play by Anne Washburn, but it didn’t work for me. I couldn’t wait until it was over.

I can say that this production, directed by John Langs, has especially good lighting by Geoff Korf. It emphasizes the “post electric” element of this imagined world, and uses candles marvelously. The players wear ingenious masks and costumes by Deb Trout in the last act.

Adam Standley in the two roles of the stranger and Mr. Burns is a standout. All cast members play two roles, and do so with agility. Erik Gratton as Matt and Homer and Anne Allgood as Jenny and Marge are especially energetic.

Through Nov. 15 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or acttheatre.org)

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