CityRep blends art and pop culture with a play inspired by The Simpsons

One brisk early February morning, four men gathered in the sitting room of a Victorian-era bed and breakfast. A fire blazed in the fireplace, and the men leaned forward, immersed in the subjects at hand: theater, the end of civilization, the foibles and gifts of human ego and The Simpsons, specifically the “Cape Feare” episode.

In one way or another, each of them is involved in Oklahoma City Repertory Theater’s (CityRep) upcoming production of Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play. It was 10 a.m., which might as well be 5 a.m. in the theater world, yet there they were: Paul T. Taylor, who stars as Mr. Burns (and is also Pinhead in the feature film Hellraiser: Judgement); award-winning regional actor Bob Hess, who portrays Gibson/Homer; Brian Parsons, the play’s director and associate dean of Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre; and CityRep’s founding artistic director Donald Jordan.

The Anne Washburn-written play is among the top five most-produced new plays, Jordan said. Debuted in 2012, Mr. Burns is billed as a dark comedy.

“The play is a theatrical hot mess,” Parsons said. “The first time I read it, I couldn’t tell if it was the best play I’d ever read or the worst play I’d ever read. This play doesn’t care if you like it or not.”

Giddiness aside, all four men agree that Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play is an audience-friendly, immersive work of theater and an important part of the national political conversation occurring in the United States these days.

“Having an [Actors’ Equity Association], small, professional theater company in Oklahoma City means that Oklahomans can now see productions that we weren’t able to before,” Jordan said. “We’re a part of the national cultural conversation on a level that we could not be prior to CityRep.”

Taylor said it reaches audiences in a simpler way too.

“Humans are the only animals who face their own mortality, and stories help us construct meaning,” Taylor said. “Today’s pop culture can become tomorrow’s high art.”

Hess, Parsons and Jordan agreed.

“Act one of the play opens with a group of people sitting around a camp fire,” Jordan said. “They begin to try to remember a specific episode of The Simpsons, the iconic ‘Cape Feare’ episode, a classic story of good, evil and revenge.”

In the second act, eight years have passed and “Cape Feare” is being produced as a play by a theater group specializing in performing episodes of The Simpsons. Act three is 100 years later. Civilization has been rebuilt, and the play has become very ritualized.

“The arc of the story is a classic one,” Taylor said. “It’s good versus evil. At the end of the show, we have so much hope that good has won, and yet a kernel of doubt remains. Did we really defeat it, or is it just waiting?”

Mr. Burns runs Feb. 23-March 5 in Civic Center Music Hall’s CitySpace Theatre, 201 N. Walker Avenue.

Visit or call 405-848-3761.

Print Headline: Burns book, A CityRep production looks at the way stories adapt to growing culture.

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