Words on Plays

This dramaturgical file prepared by American Conservatory Theatre contains many articles, some of which are broken down below.

​Survival of the Fittest Stories

In this interview with Anne Washburn, she discusses her influences, Mr. Burns, and beyond. Washburn reflects on the trajectory of storytelling narratives changing, specifically in our lifetimes. Washburn explains the development process of Mr. Burns, and her choices including The Simpsons and “Cape Feare.” She reveals her interest in disaster narratives due to her childhood in earthquake territory and the nuclear scare of the 80s. This interview offers insight into the foundation of the play.


A Simpsons Lovers Guide to Mr. Burns

Odsess-Rubin examines the impact of The Simpsons and why it is a vital piece of American culture. With millions of viewers and a record for the longest running television show, The Simpsons has become a household comedy. However, the show tackles more than laughs, it is politically relevant, combines high and low art, and challenges the viewer to “decipher the treasure trove of obscure pop-culture nods.”


Stories Within Stories

This short article explains the evolution of Cape Fear into “Cape Feare.” It tracks the references, many of which are in Mr. Burns, and has a breakdown of exactly which moments are directly parodied throughout the episode.


Once Upon a Time

Nataraj argues that “myths give people a way to dramatize and make sense of the scattered events of daily lives, while offering them a glimpse into the deeper mysteries of our reality. She explains that myths evolve to fit cultures’ needs in order to stay relevant. She notes that the story of Aesop underwent this change in ancient Greece, just as classic fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White have changed for modern culture. Likewise, Cape Fear has developed from book to movie to remake to Simpsons parody to Mr. Burns.


After Armageddon

Nataraj examines the development of apocalyptic literature, breaking the genre into historical and imagined catastrophes. Apocalypse was coined in 1822 in reference to Jewish and Christian, i.e. Noah’s Ark and the Book of Revelations. Post-Enlightenment apocalypse stories are caused by human action. After World War I, narratives shifted to the rise of robots and technology. Finally, the 70’s brought on narratives focused on environmental concern. Nataraj notes that the apocalypse responds to the fear of the time.


The End of the World

Stockwell discusses historical catastrophes similar to those in Mr. Burns. In 2003, a power failure from Michigan to Canada caused widespread problems, particularly to the elderly in hospitals. Should the power grid fail, cities would burn, bridges would collapse, and social order would turn to chaos. The Chernobyl Nuclear disaster destroyed neaby city Pripyat, which is now deserted and still radioactive. In the event of a nuclear apocalypse, radiation would cause sickness and genetic mutation in the remaining life. Stockwell breaks down the events of nuclear meltdown in which the cooling system fails. In 1979, this nearly happened at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station. It is suspected that 4,000-100,000 people will develop thyroid cancer from its radiation. She examines the man in Mr. Burns plan to safely shutdown a reactor, noting that it could only work for a small amount of time, as he is untrained and alone.


Theater in a Time of Crisis

Woodruff reflects on theatre immediately after 9/11. Theaters chose to continue performances. At the ACT, a performance of two Pinter on-acts was met with highly emotional and engaged audiences. “In the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, she felt an urgency to put on the show because ‘this was one of those moments in which theater actually mattered.’”  This theory is similarly applicable to Mr. Burns’ nuclear apocalypse- theatre becomes a means of emotional and physical survival.


Virtual Realism

This essay examines Jennifer Haley’s The Nether next to Mr. Burns as an example of productions that “take up the questions of virtual reality, technological dependence, and digitally transformed bodies.” It delves into the layers of escapism found in theatre and other forms of media as well as the power of storytelling to bring order to chaos.


Anne Washburn

This article was written based on an interview with Anne Washburn. It focuses on the career and work of Anne Washburn. It examines her interest in Greek drama in relationship to Mr. Burns. By learning about the playwright’s influences and development, we may be able to solve the many riddles of the text.


From the Bard to Bart

Lawson explores Almeida Theatre’s negative critical reviews on Mr. Burns, concluding that those who dislike it are out of touch with common culture. He sites that the critics argue the play is far too specific for audiences to “get it,” but it is the critics who fail to understand the play because critics, “don’t recognize or don’t respect her references.”

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