Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
The poster for the original off-Broadway production at Playwrights Horizons
Written byAnne Washburn
Date premieredMay 2012
Place premieredWoolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington, D.C.
GenreBlack comedy

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play (stylized Mr. Burns, a post-electric play) is an American black comedy play written by Anne Washburn with music by Michael Friedman. The play depicts the evolution of the story Cape Feare in the decades after a doomsday scenario.

It premiered in May 2012 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., and ran from August through October 2013 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City, commissioned and developed with the New York theater company The Civilians. It received polarized reviews and was nominated for a 2014 Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.

It was produced at the Almeida Theatre in London in 2014 by director Robert Icke, and in Adelaide and Sydney, Australia, in 2017 by director Imara Savage. The UK regional premiere was produced at Derby Theatre in 2023 by director Omar Khan.


Shortly after an unspecified apocalypse, six survivors gather at a campfire. To distract themselves from mourning, they attempt to recount the episode "Cape Feare" of the TV show The Simpsons, as well as several other pieces of media.

Seven years later, the group has formed a travelling theatre company that specializes in performing Simpsons episodes. Live theatre is a major entertainment form in the new society, with troupes fiercely competing to replicate pre-apocalyptic stories. Despite this goal, the group's rendition of Cape Feare differs from the real episode in many small ways. During a rehearsal, the group is attacked by armed robbers, with their fates unknown.

75 years after that, Cape Feare is performed as a musical in a theater dedicated to The Simpsons. The characters, plot and morals have changed into more serious and epic forms. For example, Mr. Burns has been combined with Sideshow Bob (the actual Cape Feare villain) and is now a supernatural avatar of death and destruction.

In the musical's story, Burns destroys Springfield by sabotaging the nuclear power plant. The Simpsons flee from the catastrophe onto a houseboat. Burns and his demonic henchmen Itchy & Scratchy sneak onto the boat and untie the mooring ropes, then begin killing the Simpsons one by one. Bart, the last survivor, almost surrenders out of despair. However, he receives encouragement from the ghosts of his family and duels Burns in a swordfight. Burns almost wins, but when the boat enters violent rapids, he's flung onto Bart's sword and dies. As Bart sings a finale song about hope for the future, the stage is lit up by bicycle-powered electric lights— the first appearance of electricity in the play.[1]


Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play was written by Anne Washburn with a score composed by Michael Friedman.[2][3] For a long time, Washburn had been exploring what it would be like "to take a TV show and push it past the apocalypse and see what happened to it" and while she originally considered Friends, Cheers, and M*A*S*H, she ultimately settled on The Simpsons.[4]

Working with The Civilians theater company, who had commissioned the play, Washburn held a workshop for a week in 2008 to see how much of any episode of The Simpsons the actors she had assembled could remember.[3][4] Maher knew The Simpsons well and the group decided on the 1993 episode "Cape Feare", based on the 1991 film Cape Fear, itself a remake of an eponymous 1962 film which is based on the 1957 novel The Executioners.[3][5] He helped Dizzia and Morris remember the episode, then the two of them went on to perform it for an audience without his help; Washburn subsequently utilized recordings of this process in writing her play's first act.[3]


2012: Washington, D.C.

The play had its world premiere in May 2012 at Washington, D.C.'s Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. It was commissioned by The Civilians and developed in partnership with them, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and Playwrights Horizons.[6][3][7] It was directed by Steve Cosson who got confirmation from several lawyers that the play fell under the umbrella of fair use.[3]

2013: New York City

Cosson also directed the New York City production at Playwrights Horizons that premiered on September 15, 2013.[2] Maher and Morris, who had not appeared in the Woolly Mammoth production, returned for the New York staging.[2][3] At Playwrights, the show ran until October 20, 2013.[8] Samuel French, Inc. published the show's script and licenses productions of the show.[6]

U.S. casts

Character(s) Original off-Broadway cast[2] Original D.C. cast[9]
Quincy, Businesswoman, Bart 2 Quincy Tyler Bernstine Erika Rose[10]
Susannah, Lisa 1, Second F.B.I. Agent, Itchy Susannah Flood Jenna Sokolowski
Gibson, Loving Husband, Sideshow Bob, Homer 2 Gibson Frazier Chris Genebach
Matt, Homer 1, Scratchy Matthew Maher Steve Rosen
Nedra, Edna Krabappel Nedra McClyde
Jenny, Marge Jennifer R. Morris Kimberly Gilbert
Colleen, First F.B.I. Agent, Lisa 2 Colleen Werthmann Amy McWilliams
Sam, Bart 1, Mr. Burns Sam Breslin Wright James Sugg

2014: London

Washburn continued to revise the play for its European premiere at the Almeida Theatre in London in Spring 2014, and a new draft was published by Oberon Books. It was directed by Robert Icke, who commissioned Orlando Gough to compose a new a cappella score for the third act. The London production was visually and emotionally darker than the New York one, especially in its third act which resembled Greek tragedy as much as The Simpsons.[11]

It provoked an extremely divided reaction from British critics; ratings ranged from one to five stars.[12]

Character(s) Original London cast[13]
Maria, Lisa Annabel Scholey
Gibson, Itchy Brandon Grace
Matt, Homer Noah Marullo
Quincy, Marge Wunmi Mosaku
Colleen, Bart Jenna Russell
Sam, Mr Burns Dan Wolff
Nedra Adey Grummet
Jenny, Scratchy Justine Mitchell

2017: Australia

A co-production between Sydney's Belvoir St Theatre and the State Theatre Company South Australia[14] saw the play performed at Space Theatre in the Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, in April–May 2017[15] and at the Belvoir in May–June 2017.[16]

Mitchell Butel took the roles of Mr Burns and Gibson, while Paula Arundell, Esther Hannaford, Jude Henshall, Brent Hill, Ezra Juanta, and Jacqy Phillips making up the rest of the cast. The production was directed by Imara Savage. The play was mostly met with good reviews[17][18] and Butel won a Helpmann Award for his performance.[19]


The New York Times ranked Mr. Burns: a post-electric play at #4 on its list "The Great Work Continues: The 25 Best American Plays Since Angels in America." Critic Laura Collins-Hughes wrote, "Not everyone loves this play; not everyone’s meant to. But for the rest of us, it’s the kind of bold, inventive show that sends you staggering out onto the street afterward, stunned and exhilarated, not sure quite what you’ve just experienced because you’ve never seen its like before."[20]

In Time, Richard Zoglin characterized the reaction to the show as receiving "some rave reviews, a few equally passionate dissents and sellout crowds."[21] Ben Brantley of The New York Times compared Mr. Burns to Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century book The Decameron in which a group of Italian youths have fled the Black Death to a villa where they begin to exchange stories.[2] "At the end of Steve Cosson's vertiginous production, which opened on Sunday night at Playwrights Horizons, you’re likely to feel both exhausted and exhilarated from all the layers of time and thought you've traveled through", wrote Brantley.[2] Reviewing for Vulture, Scott Brown found "Cape Feare" to be "a perfect palimpsest" and commended the ending musical number as "equal parts Brecht and Bart, Homer and the other Homer".[22]

In his otherwise positive review, Brown noted that the play's "flabby middle act could use some tightening, to better dramatize Washburn’s talky deepthink."[22] Marilyn Stasio wrote for Variety that the "piece loses sight of its humanity with an overproduced pop-rap-operetta in the underplotted second act".[23] The Huffington Post's David Finkle felt that the play "could be contained in a 15-minute skit--if not quite a 140-character tweet" and that Washburn "stretches and stretches it through [its] three parts".[24]

The play is mentioned in the 2015 The Simpsons episode "Let's Go Fly a Coot" as part of a list of recent post-apocalyptic films (despite the fact that it is not a film). In writer Mike Reiss's memoir about writing for the show (Springfield Confidential), he describes his disappointment with the play, saying that both it and the playwright failed because the play was what The Simpsons itself never was, "grim, pretentious and dull."[25]


Year Award Subject Result Reference
2014 Drama League Award Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play Nominated [8]


Julie Grossman examined Mr. Burns as an instance of multilayered adaptation. She wrote that the show "challenges audiences to embrace the imaginative (if strange and alienating) scions, or adaptations, of cultural matter."[26] In reference to characters in the play's second act bargaining for rights to and lines from other Simpsons episodes, she noted "That permissions and copyright have survived the apocalypse brings out the absurdity of owning the rights to artistic production and dialogue and the persistence of capitalism."[27] Grossman differentiated Mr. Burns from Emily St. John Mandel's 2014 novel Station Eleven, which also examines storytelling in a postapocalyptic setting, in the types of catalysts for their respective apocalypse: a naturally occurring flu outbreak in Station Eleven versus an unnatural and greed-driven nuclear collapse in Mr. Burns.[28] "Although the play's postmodern mash-up of television, film, and theater is highly entertaining, its powerful ethics resides in seeing capitalism and consumerism (symbolized by the greedy Simpsons character Mr. Burns) as the causes of civilization's decay."[29]


  1. ^ Washburn, Anne (2012). Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play. Samuel French.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Brantley, Ben (15 September 2013). "Stand Up, Survivors; Homer Is With You". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Grode, Eric (31 May 2012). "'The Simpsons' as a Text for the Ages". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  4. ^ a b Del Signore, John (27 September 2013). "Excellent: Playwright Anne Washburn Talks Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play". Gothamist. Gothamist LLC. Archived from the original on 9 May 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  5. ^ Weisfeld, Miriam (2012). "Essential Narrative" (PDF). Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Mr. Burns, a post-electric play". Samuel French. Samuel French, Inc. Archived from the original on 12 September 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  7. ^ "Mr Burns, a Post-Electric Play". Woolly Mammoth. Retrieved 12 November 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Mr. Burns, a post-electric play". Lortel Archives. Lucille Lortel Foundation. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  9. ^ Gilbert, Sophie (5 June 2012). "Theater Review: "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play" at Woolly Mammoth". Washingtonian. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  10. ^ Gunther, Amanda (5 June 2012). "'Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play' at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company by Amanda Gunther". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  11. ^ "Mr Burns". Time Out London. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  12. ^ "Mr Burns divides the critics". Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  13. ^ "Mr Burns". Almeida Theatre. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  14. ^ Washburn, Anne (29 September 2021). "Mr Burns". Belvoir St Theatre. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  15. ^ Dexter, John (27 April 2017). "Review: Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  16. ^ McPherson, Angus (23 February 2019). "Mr Burns, A Post-Electric Play (Belvoir & State Theatre Company South Australia)". Limelight. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  17. ^ Lenny, Barry (5 October 2022). "Review: Mr. Burns – A Post-Electric Play at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre". Broadway World. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  18. ^ Grubel, Maxine (13 May 2017). "Mr Burns". Stage Whispers. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  19. ^ Marsh, Walter (17 December 2018). "New State Theatre Company artistic director revealed". The Adelaide Review. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  20. ^ "The Great Work Continues: The 25 Best American Plays Since 'Angels in America'". The New York Times. 31 May 2018.
  21. ^ Zoglin, Richard (25 September 2013). "When The Simpsons Rules the World: Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play". Time. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  22. ^ a b Brown, Scott (17 September 2013). "Apocalypse? D'oh! Scott Brown Reviews Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play". Vulture. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  23. ^ Stasio, Marilyn (16 September 2013). "Off Broadway Review: 'Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play'". Variety. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  24. ^ Finkle, David (16 September 2013). "First Nighter: Anne Washburn's "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" Does Go On and On and..." The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
  25. ^ Reiss, Mike; Klickstein, Mathew (2018). Springfield confidential: jokes, secrets, and outright lies from a lifetime writing for the Simpsons. New York City: Dey Street Books. p. 94. ISBN 978-0062748034.
  26. ^ Grossman 2015, p. 190.
  27. ^ Grossman 2015, p. 184.
  28. ^ Grossman 2015, p. 181.
  29. ^ Grossman 2015, pp. 181–182.