You don't have to be a Simpsons expert to fully appreciate Anne Washburn's new play, but it certainly won't hurt.
Washburn used the classic episode "Cape Feare" as inspiration for Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. In it, she posits a future where the episode has become a major cultural touchstone for those living after the apocalypse.
"If you are a Simpsons follower, you will have a different kind of experience, but the play is designed so you shouldn't be worried about being an expert on the show," Washburn says.
If you are unfamiliar, or just haven't watched it in a long time, "Cape Feare" centers on Sideshow Bob, who is paroled from prison (after convincing the board that the "Die, Bart, Die" tattoo on his chest actually is German for "The, Bart, The") and then plans to take out Bart and the Simpson clan.
The idea brewed in Washburn's head for years. As a deadline loomed, she got together with a group of actors and had them describe the plot of an episode to her. "Cape Feare" came up, which saved her from her second option.
"The backup plan was to have them watch four or five episodes, and then wait for six months," she says.
The half-remembered part is vital to the play, as the story of "Cape Feare" changes in each telling, which are separated by many years. The episode itself works perfectly because, unlike most of the episodes of the show, it follows a single story from beginning to end without many diversions.
"Usually they didn't satirize just one story, but [the original writers] were at the end of their time there and got tired and cranky. They had all trooped out to see the remake of Cape Fear, and they followed one through-line from beginning to end. [The episode] sticks in your brain in a different way," Washburn says.
Tales of the apocalypse have long been a popular bit of culture. Washburn looks to works like Stephen King's The Stand for inspiration. "I think it is fun to think about the apocalypse," she says.
And taking a story from TV seems natural. "We've always told stories around fires. The stories we all have in common now are TV stories," Washburn says.
IF YOU GO:
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play The show is in previews through Friday, opens Saturday, and and runs through May 10 Guthrie Theater 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis $34-$65 ($15-$46 for previews) For tickets and more information, call 612-377-2224 or visit online.