Review

In 'Mr. Burns,' Sacred Fools mines a classic 'Simpsons' episode for dark comedy

Never take your pop culture for granted. Today’s animated sitcom might just turn out to be tomorrow’s sacred text — an evolution ingeniously depicted by Sacred Fools Theater Company in the darkly comic futurist epic, “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play.”

Over the course of three acts, an episode of “The Simpsons” becomes an unlikely cultural pillar as society rebuilds itself following the apocalyptic failure of the power grid. Comic wellsprings notwithstanding, playwright Anne Washburn’s darker purpose is to explore our desperate need for storytelling — and theater in particular — as a structuring principle at the core of civilization.

Offering terrific value for a $15 ticket price, director Jaime Robledo and his stellar ensemble cast and technical crew make spectacular use of Sacred Fools’ entire Broadwater multi-stage theater complex (formerly the Elephant Stages).

We begin in the intimate black box space, configured in the round, as a ragtag group of strangers gather around a campfire in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. To break the ice and ease hostilities, they take turns recalling the “Cape Feare” parody from “The Simpsons” Season 5, Episode 2 (easily searchable online and worth the 20-minute investment to best appreciate the references here). Even as they hilariously struggle to piece together fragments from memory, their fragile camaraderie is interrupted by menacing reminders that their world is a very dangerous place with all the bad behavior we know from “The Walking Dead,” minus the zombies.

The audience moves to the venue’s middle theater for the second act, set seven years later. By now the refugees have formed a traveling amateur theater troupe amid an emerging barter economy in which snippets of “Simpsons” dialogue and plots function as a kind of currency. Among the ruins of lost infrastructure, however, survival is still an iffy proposition.

The third act, presented in the largest theater, jumps 70 years ahead to a new set of characters performing a fully realized musical version of “Cape Feare,” with score by Michael Friedman and lyrics by Washburn. In the intervening decades, the story of Bart (Tracey Leigh) and his demonic nemesis (Eric Curtis Johnson) have now transformed into an eerie cross between Victorian gaslight melodrama and Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. While elements of the original TV episode are still recognizable, they’re filtered through the sensibilities of a future society for whom “The Simpsons” and its characters have taken on a very different meaning.

The whole elaborate environmental experience is weird, creepy and, as its title character would proclaim it, “Excellent!”

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‘Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play’

Where: The Broadwater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; extended through Dec. 9

Tickets: $15

Info: (310) 281-8337 or www.sacredfools.org

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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UPDATES:

5:40 p.m. Nov. 11: This article has been updated to reflect an extension of the run.

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