Playwrights: Antlia Pneumatica; Mr. Burns, a post-electric play. Other plays include 10 out of 12, Little Bunny Foo Foo, The Internationalist, A Devil At Noon, Apparition, The Communist Dracula Pageant, I Have Loved Strangers, The Ladies, The Small, and transadaptations of Euripides' Orestes & Iphigenia in Aulis. Her work has been produced by 13P, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Almeida, American Repertory Theatre, Cherry Lane Theatre, Classic Stage Company, Clubbed Thumb, The Civilians, Dixon Place, Ensemble Studio Theater, The Folger, The Gate, The Guthrie, Playwrights Horizons, Red Eye, Soho Rep., Studio Theater, Two River Theater Company, Vineyard Theater, and Woolly Mammoth. Honors include a Whiting, a Guggenheim, an Alpert Award, a PEN/Laura Pels Award for an artist in mid-career, a NYFA Fellowship, a Time Warner Fellowship, Susan Smith Blackburn finalist, and residencies at MacDowell and Yaddo. She is an associated artist with The Civilians, Clubbed Thumb, New Georges, Chochiqq, and is an alumna of New Dramatists and 13P.
Credits include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Broadway and the Public Theater) Unknown Soldier, The Fortress of Solitude, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Mr. Burns. With The Civilians: Canard Canard Goose, Gone Missing, Nobody’s Lunch, This Beautiful City, In the Footprint, The Great Immensity, Paris Commune, Pretty Filthy, and The Abominables. He was the Artist-in-Residence and Director of the Public Forum at the Public Theater and Artistic Director of City Center Encores! Off-Center. He received the 2007 OBIE Award for sustained excellence and was honored with a star on the Playwright’s Sidewalk at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2018. (photo by Jared Siskin)
(Updated Mar 2019)
DOWNRIGHT BRILLIANT. When was the last time you met a new play that was so smart it made your head spin? Get ready to reel, New York. Anne Washburn’s "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play" has arrived to leave you dizzy with the scope and dazzle of its ideas. With grand assurance and artistry, Ms. Washburn makes us appreciate anew the profound value of storytelling in and of itself, and makes a case for theater as the most glorious and durable storyteller of all. I LOOK FORWARD TO REMEMBERING IT FOR A LONG, LONG TIME. (Critic's Pick)
GET IN LINE ASAP. This bizarre, funny, bleak, wonderful show is even better than its hype. Inventively directed by the Civilians’ Steve Cosson, it’s also one of the most affecting tributes to theater and tenacity you’re likely to see all year.
5 STARS. Brilliant and beguiling. The impeccable Playwrights Horizons production—staged with steely grace by Steve Cosson and acted by a terrific ensemble—does the improbable: it makes the end of civilization seem like the perfect time to create glowing objects of wonder and beauty.
ONE OF THE SMARTEST AND MOST DELIGHTFULLY ORIGINAL SHOWS TO COME ALONG IN A LONG WHILE. Anne Washburn, with exemplary assistance from director Steve Cosson and a dedicated ensemble cast, plus music by Michael Friedman, has created an odyssey of popular culture.
—Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record
AUDACIOUS. The eight-person ensemble handles the material with tremendous skill and versatility.
—Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
A breathtaking, brain-teasing evening that asks you to consider how pop culture is embraced, metabolized and reinterpreted through the filters of time and cataclysmic events. The scrupulous manner in which Washburn — vitally assisted by composer Michael Friedman — works out the changes over time in the way the episode is recalled and interpreted approaches the mind-blowing.
WILDLY INVENTIVE. Anne Washburn has produced one of the most spectacularly original plays in recent memory.
—Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
WONDERFULLY CLEVER, from the witty costumes by Emily Rebholz to Sam Pinkleton’s tongue-in-cheek choreography. The piece de resistance is the addition of Michael Friedman’s music, a pastiche of every pop song ever played.
—Marilyn Stasio, Variety
A fascinating and hilarious triumph. From hell, Mr. Burns sends us to heaven.
The play is both scary and sweet, funny but dead serious, unique and wonderfully theatrical. The night I attended, the audience was filled with twentysomethings, there on a special “under 30” night at Playwrights Horizons. I doubt that many were Simpsons fanatics. Most were barely toddlers when “Eat My Shorts” was a national catchphrase. But at the end they all stood and cheered.
Tim Sanford: So you grew up in Berkeley, right? What did your parents do?
Anne Washburn: My dad’s a painter and my mother worked for a non-profit housing agency.
What was your first exposure to theater?
My first memories of theater were in kindergarten, watching the older grades—second and third graders—do actual plays and thinking that that was extraordinarily impressive. First of all they were very sophisticated people, these second and third graders. But also the event of the thing was super fun. So, I was one of those kids who loved it pretty instantly.
Mr. Burns author Anne Washburn trade thoughts on the set of her play with John McWhorter, an expert on the evolution of language and culture and the author of Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language; Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York magazine; and Jon Vitti, one of the most prolific Simpsons writers in the show's 24-season history.
In the first of our curated panels, Mr. Burns author Anne Washburn trades thoughts on the set of her play with John McWhorter, an expert on the evolution of language and culture and the author of Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language; Matt Zoller Seitz, TV critic for New York magazine; and Jon Vitti, one of the most prolific Simpsons writers in the show's 24-season history.
This play comes from an idea which had been knocking around in my head for years: I wanted to take a pop culture narrative and see what it meant, and how it changed, after the fall of Civilization. Really just because I was curious; I write plays because that part of my brain is more entertaining to me than this part of my brain.
I knew I wanted to start with an act of recollection, with a group of survivors trying to piece together a TV episode. And to do that, I wanted to work with a group of actors; remembering is complicated; I could make remembering up, but it would never be as rich and complex as the real thing.
Culture mongers relentlessly peddle dystopic futurist scenarios in TV and movies. Despite all evidence we might be sated with zombie/vampire/invading alien/oncoming asteroid/catastrophic climate change/magnetic pole inversion/nuclear meltdown disaster epics, the shows keep coming. Most of these would fall decidedly into the bottom left “Lowbrow/Despicable” quadrant of New York Magazine’s Approval Matrix (except maybe The Walking Dead, which nudges just slightly into the Lowbrow/Brilliant quadrant). Anne Washburn’s ridiculously inspired Mr. Burns shoots straight into my personal “Highbrow/Brilliant” by riffing on one entirely plausible disaster scenario, the disintegration of our electric grid, and turning it inside out.
The end times have been with us for a long time. Nearly every human culture has postulated some epic finale for the universe. But as our power to shape the world (for better or worse) has grown, so has the genre of doom. The Industrial Revolution brought a spike in apocalyptic fiction (Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, 1826; H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, 1895; and War of the Worlds, 1898), but the atom bomb kicked things into high gear, exponentially multiplying the ways we’ve been able to conceive of our end. In the last seventy years, our stories have wiped civilization from the planet’s surface by way of nuclear war, pandemic, extraterrestrial attack, impact event, cybernetic revolt, technological singularity, dysgenics, runaway climate change, resource depletion, ecological collapse, assorted geological and astronomical catastrophes, and that old standby: divine judgment. But what of after?
Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains
who you are as a writer.
A: I have a lot of vivid earthquake memories...
—from an interview with Anne Washburn
In the classic parlor game Balderdash, players compose fake definitions for a real word—the more obscure, the better—and then mix these imagined definitions with the actual definition. “The Dasher” reads them all aloud, and everyone casts votes on what they think is the truth. If you guess correctly, you score. But you also score when another player votes for the lie you invented.