Encore Michigan

“The Simpsons” meet the apocalypse in Traverse City—for six performances

Preview May 20, 2017 Encore Staff

TRAVERSE CITY—Parallel 45 Theatre will perform the dark comedy musical Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn May 31 – June 4 at the former InsideOut Gallery (229 Garland St.) in Traverse City. Six professional actors, four musicians, and a team of designers, all from as far away as London and as close as Traverse City will collaborate to bring the show to northwest Michigan for the first time.  The production is suitable for ages 13 and up.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.parallel45.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006. The show runs approximately 2.5 hours, which includes a 20-minute intermission. Performances are 7:30 pm May 31–June 3 (Wednesday–Saturday) and 2:00 pm June 3 and 4 (Saturday and Sunday).

The story takes the audience inside a community of survivors after an unexplained apocalyptic event.  As they gather around a campfire, trying desperately to remember a particular episode of the popular television show The Simpsons, a new art form is born from their memories: theatrical re-creation of the digital culture we can’t seem to live without. Fast-forward 75 years and that pop culture has become a new generation’s mythology. Mr. Burns explodes the boundaries between pop and high culture and asks, “when society collapses, what do we cling to from the past, and how does it determine our future?”

Directed by Matthew Gutschick (Omaha’s Rose Theater; Yale School of Drama; Twin City Stage) and Justin Perez (Williamstown Theatre Festival; Woodshed Collective; Columbia University Graduate Theatre), and with music direction by John Driscoll (Eastman School of Music; San Francisco Conservatory; Interlochen Center for the Arts), this production takes its audience on an immersive, decades-long journey with a fictional community that could easily be our own.

Featuring Ben Whiting (Steppenwolf, Chicago), Sarah Bielman (Upright Citizens Brigade, New York), Katharine Mangold (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama; Free Association Theatre, London), Samantha Smart (Stella Adler, LA; Theatre Baton Rouge; The Shakespeare Group, Paris) and Jens Rasmussen (NatGeo TV; La MaMa; Pan Asian Rep). Lighting design by Brian Elston (Goodman Theatre, Chicago), set design by Matthew McCarren (Cleveland Opera Theatre; Oberlin in Italy), projection design by Brittany Merenda (Opera Grand Rapids; Cleveland Opera Theatre; The Rose Theater), sound design by Maria Ulrich (Columbia College Chicago; The Accidentals), costume design by Jacy Barber (The Kennedy Center; A Broken Umbrella Theatre).

Created for the NYC-based theater group, The Civilians, the show’s themes reflect the core belief upon which Parallel 45 Theatre was founded. “Stories survive and adapt as time marches on. Their meaning might change, but our need for meaning stays the same,” said Parallel 45 Artistic Director Kit McKay. “Something as simple as a Simpson’s episode has the potential to bridge the gap between the past and the future, asking us how narratives survive through generations–largely through tribal memory–to help us cope with the struggles of daily living.”

Theatre artists from New York City, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Omaha, London, Chicago, Denver, and Washington D.C. will join artists living locally for an intense month-long process to bring six performances of this high-energy, three-act play to Traverse City for one of its few productions ever in the state.

McKay was first introduced to Mr. Burns in 2010, while shadowing a season planning committee at Seattle Repertory Theatre as part of a Yale School of Drama fellowship. After spending months reading nearly every play making the rounds of regional theatres, Braden Abraham–now artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre–threw down a new script, saying to the group, “This is the smartest piece of theatre I have encountered in a decade.” Ever since that day, McKay has dreamed of bringing this play to Traverse City.

Week of 6/29/2020

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