Dark Comedy Shines A Light On Storytelling | WGLT

Dark Comedy Shines A Light On Storytelling

Feb 16, 2018

When things get bad ... really bad ... at least we have each other and our stories.  

That's the pulse that gives life to a dark comedy running at Illinois State University's Westhoff Theatre. "Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play" by Ann Washburn is a show that's as unique as it is meta.

Kristin Schoenback is the director of the show. Set in a chaotic post-apocalyptic world, the play begins with a group of survivors who gather around a campfire. As a coping strategy, they begin storytelling, using one very specific story—the "Cape Feare" episode of "The Simpsons," where Sideshow Bob stalks with the intent to kill Bart.

Director Kristin Schoenback says this play is just oozing with fun pop culture references.
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT

"That episode itself is based on the 1991 film, 'Cape Fear' with Robert Deniro," explained Schoenback. "And that is based on the 1962 version of the film, which is based on the 1957 book. So there's epic layers of pop culture."

The first act of the play features storytelling as a way of bonding and finding comfort. Act Two takes the storytelling a step further.

"After seven years, society is trying to find stability and reorganize itself. There's still no electricity and this group of survivors has formed a theater troupe and they're putting up the episode, as best they can remember. Other theater troupes form and they compete against each other. They use the idea of storytelling as a way to find organization and restructure society again."

The performers throw in chart hits from the 2000s and recreate commercials that once ran with the episode of "The Simpsons." 

Act Three jumps 75 years into the future where the devotion to storytelling achieves monumental new heights.

"The whole play has this underlying theme of the necessity for stories in our lives," said Schoenback. "Pop culture is so engrained in us. What do we have if we can't reach out and touch it? We only have our memory of it which we want to share with other humans around us."

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