Something Worth Seeing: Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play & Walking to Buchenwald

As an Ovation Voter, I have the privilege of going out and seeing a lot of theatre around Los Angeles. All #LAThtr artists strive to create Something Worth Seeing, and oftentimes the quality of work I see is fantastic. But ask any producer around town how difficult and frustrating it can be to get a house, even for top-notch work. So, whether I see a show as an Ovation Voter or not, I want to start highlighting the productions that I both enjoy and feel are of above-average quality here on my blog. I mean, after all, we’re in this together. If everyone around town celebrated the best of the best and helped boost signals, I think we could start collectively decimating the fallacy that there’s no good theatre in Los Angeles.

A couple of disclaimers: Please be aware that my descriptions below include plot spoilers.

Also, I’m not a critic. This is just my opinions about each story in general. Your experience may vary.

Okay. Disclaimer over. The plays:

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play

Something Worth Seeing: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play at Sacred Fools

(L to R) Heather Roberts, Scott Golden in Mr. Burns, a post-electric play at Sacred Fools – Photos by Jessica Sherman Photography

The first is Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play at Sacred Fools. After society is forcibly unplugged by the collapse of the power grid, we witness the return of the oral tradition, and it’s evolution (de-evolution?) across three ages: the immediate aftermath, a decade later, and another seventy-five years P.E. (post-electric). It’s a fascinating rabbit hole, starting off with the plausible and relateable – survivors sitting around a campfire, passing the time by spouting off half-remembered plots from Simpsons episodes and other pop-culture references.

Act Two, seven years later: society has regressed to horse-and-buggy transportation, and we learn that the survivors from Act One have formed a troupe of traveling players, performing old television favorites on a new circuit of cities, live with commercial breaks (including a really fun Now That’s What I Call Music-inspired song-and-dance medley.

After intermission, we’re treated to a vision of the world that’s eighty-two years into the post-electric future. Theatre has returned to its religious roots, pageantry and all, and we witness a neoclassical morality opera about the triumph of the human spirit against all odds, and in spite of devastating loss, through the lens of The Simpsons’Cape Feare” (complete with the Cape Fear musical sting sung as a hymnal refrain) spiced up with other half-remembered bits of pop culture from the Electric Age.

It’s a stunning allegory: Mr. Burns, substituted in for the homicidal Sideshow Bob (a sly reference to the devastation of nuclear power), kills off Bart’s family, one-by-one, Itchy and Scratchy style. Bart, resigned to his fate, awaits his own death, until the spirits of his family rally him to tap his inner strength and rally to save himself. In the end, Bart – a new-age everyman – stands alone, but triumphant, with the weight of the future on his narrow shoulders.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but there’s one particular thread that stands out: a bit about Diet Coke in Acts One and Two. Act One, one of the characters is drinking a can of it while sitting around the campfire. Not much is made about it. The availability of cold bottled beer, chilled in a nearby creek, is treated with much more significance in the immediate aftermath of this disaster. Heck, you’d have to be sitting in the right area to easily spot the can under the character’s camping chair. Come Act Two, only seven years later, they’re talking about how it’s getting harder and harder to find Diet Coke, and how there may not be any left. Soon, they won’t remember the taste of it anymore. When you apply this notion to the existence of any number of consumable conveniences we have access to on-demand today, the resulting realization is, well, for lack of a better term… sobering.

Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play runs at The Broadwater in Hollywood through November 18th. Tickets are only $15.

Definitely Something Worth Seeing.

Walking to Buchenwald

Sunday night, I took a trip over to Open Fist’s new digs at the Atwater Village Theatre for a Tom Jacobson play, Walking to Buchenwald. This was my first time seeing an Open Fist show. Also my first play by Tom Jacobson. Actually, I stand corrected. This is my second Tom Jacobson play; the first play of his I saw was The Theatre @ Boston Court’s production of The Twentieth-Century Way at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2010 – a theatrical triumph, if I may be so bold.

Synopsis: World premiere of Walking to Buchenwald — A protean comedy with shattering consequences. When Schiller and Arjay take Schiller’s parents to Europe, both couples learn what it means to be American in a world that no longer admires the U.S. Guinea pigs playing cricket, dead bodies that talk and an unexpected trip to a concentration camp lead to a shocking yet poignant conclusion. In a stroke of non-gender specific casting that dramatically illustrates the extent to which acting can change a story, two women alternate with two men in the roles of Schiller and Arjay.

So, I saw Die Herren cast (both men). Unfortunately, I will miss Die Damen (both women) and Eine Dame und Ein Herr (one man, one woman), and I am seriously disappointed by that. I would love to see how the genders of Schiller and Arjay affect the dynamics between the couple and Schiller’s Oaklahoman parents.

Open Fist Theatre Company presents Walking to Buchenwald - “Die Herren” Cast - Christopher Cappiello and Justin Huen as Schiller and Arjay

Walking to Buchenwald – “Die Herren” Cast

Anyhow, this show brilliantly weaves multiple weighted plotlines and relationships, all the while demonstrating how Ugly Americans can truly be abroad, what with a lack of comprehension for the finer nuances of how we present ourselves to and are perceived by our friends across the pond. What really stunned me though (and please be aware that there’s a non-specific but important spoiler here, as I’m about to explain the structure of the ending without getting into too much detail), but I really was enraptured by how Tom Jacobson interweaves such lovely personal relationships between our four main characters, and how those relationships grow with every scene… only to have it all not matter; the rumblings of a global sea change throughout the show that they’d turned a blind eye towards unexpectedly come to a head and a true reckoning is had. In the wake of this stunning revelation, everything that’s come before is devastatingly rendered pointless. The world has changed, and what was important before matters no longer.

Walking to Buchenwald is a nuanced and nimble commentary on America in the Age of Trump; one that drives its point home with skill, and without being overbearing or preachy (except perhaps one cry of “We should have seen it coming,” that seemed a little too on-the-nose in its double meaning. But that could have easily been in the delivery, not the script). Open Fist’s production is sincere and well-executed with an eloquent simplicity. It also closes this weekend. So if you get a minute, and you’ve already seen The Woman in Black at Theatre Unleashed, go see Walking to Buchenwald at Open Fist.

Edit: I found out only today that even though this is the World Premiere production of Walking to Buchenwald, it was first completed a decade ago. It blew my mind, how timely and relevant this play is. Bravo, Mr. Jacobson. Stunning work. Something Worth Seeing.