Tim’s Picks: A Super Deluxe, Eeeeexcellent Edition
D’oh! Q&A with the set designer for Purdue Theatre’s dystopian ‘Simpsons’ play, opening Friday. Plus, five other choice things to do in Greater Lafayette, in this week’s edition of Tim’s Picks
Welcome to a bonus Super Deluxe Edition of Tim’s Picks, the weekly look at things worth checking out this weekend and beyond in Greater Lafayette. First up, Based in Lafayette correspondent and Simpsons trivia champ Tim Brouk’s Q&A with the set designer for the latest show at Purdue Theatre. Then, on to the usual dose of Tim’s five Picks for the week.
PURDUE THEATRE PRESENTS ‘EEEEEXCELLENT’ DYSTOPIAN ‘SIMPSONS’ PLAY
By Tim Brouk / For Based in Lafayette
From “Mad Max” to “The Last of Us,” a post-apocalyptic setting is a familiar — albeit still bleak — show premise.
However, Purdue Theatre found a piece that turns such settings on a more dys-“d’oh!”-pian path. “Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play” follows a small group of survivors after a cataclysmic event. Conversation turns to their favorite episode of “The Simpsons,” which somehow shapes their new society for generations to come in a sort of cultural game of telephone (“purple monkey dishwasher”).
“Mr. Burns: A Post Electric Play” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at the Hansen Theatre in Purdue University’s Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts. The show runs through Feb. 26. Tickets are $12.50-$19.50.
The play’s unique setting had designers and directors walking a fine line of making the play their own while still sprinkling in enough references to satisfy the most hardcore “Simpsons” heads. One of those designers is Mae Berg, a Purdue Theatre graduate student from Tucson, Arizona. A veteran costume designer at University of Arizona as well as community theater, Berg made a stunning admission when the show was announced in spring 2022.
“I had never watched an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ before I was asked to design this show,” Berg said.
Berg was tasked with binging 33 seasons of “The Simpsons” last summer before sketching out her costume ideas in the fall. It “only” took her two months to go from “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (episode 1, season 1, 1989) to “Poorhouse Rock” (episode 22, season 33, 2022). That’s more than 700 total episodes. Now, Berg is seeing yellow as her creations are about to be worn on one of Purdue’s biggest stages.
Question: Before we get to “The Simpsons,” how does a designer breathe life into a dystopian landscape when it’s been done numerous times in film and television in recent years?
Mae Berg: It’s interesting — the script didn’t really give us a lot of details. It doesn’t tell us exactly what happened and exactly when it happened. It’s more about the people and you figure it out through fragments of conversation. So, we had conversations with the design team about what we thought happened. While we didn’t come up with a strict conclusion, because I think it should ultimately be more up to the audience, it became about the backstory of the characters — when they were fleeing home, what would they think to grab, what would be important to them?
I think for me what gets interesting is that we see them first seven weeks after this disaster, and that’s when we have this strong reality. Then we see them seven years after that. Throughout all of this they don’t have electricity. After seven years, I had to think how society progressed.
The last act is 75 years into the future, so at that point so it’s like its own thing.
Q: How does “The Simpsons” thread in this show progress as we move from seven weeks after the disaster to seven years to 75 years?
Mae Berg: When characters dress up as “The Simpsons,” we’re doing it more with found objects — things like egg cartons, silverware and socks that are kind of reminiscent of these characters. There are some things they can’t find or are misremembering. Those types of things that are making them not quite right. In the third act, we have technology, but things are even more misremembered. It’s kind of warped throughout time because we are at least two generations into the future, and we see how these stories morphed.
I realized the show relies on the loose memory of “The Simpsons,” like someone who has watched it but not recently.
Q: How did you survive watching more than 700 episodes in two months? Why did you go that all out?
Mae Berg: It was a great time (laughs). No, it was actually a lot of fun. I did get that loose memory of it, like the characters in the play, but there are some moments I remember clearly and some moments that after watching five episodes a day, they kind of blend together a little bit more.
For masks, I drew them completely from memory without looking at reference. Some were completely wrong, and others weren’t. Like, I drew Blinky the fish with his eyes in a triangle instead the three eyes in a straight line. It’s more about the memory of it. Like in the script, there is Thelma, who we think is supposed to be Selma (Bouvier). Things are intentionally misremembered, but it was fun because I got to use my own memory and bias to design the misremembering naturally as well as intentionally.
Q: How will this play appeal to hardcore “Simpsons” fans? What about folks that don’t watch the show?
Mae Berg: Because I went into it without knowledge of “The Simpsons,” I’m hoping an audience member who also doesn’t have that knowledge will find it accessible. As the show moves, having a “Simpsons” background becomes less important. But obviously, there will be a lot of Easter eggs. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll get it even more so. We do want it to be a fun experience either way.
Q: Aside from “The Simpsons” in the mix, how does this show differ from others you’ve designed?
Mae Berg: It’s kind of costumes, props, puppets, masks, all of the above. Kind of a weird grey area, but I think it’s a fun show because we get to experiment with a lot of things we usually don’t get to, like giant mascot heads, things like light-up eyes in some costumes, which I’m very excited about.
I think it’s a great time. I enjoy lots of different types of theater. I enjoy doing very historical shows. I enjoy doing very weird shows. I enjoy changing it up. The last show I designed was a lot more historical. Now, I get to be in this weird playground of whatever the hell this is (laughs). I get to do things I’ve wanted to do but never had the chance to do before.
By Tim Brouk / For Based in Lafayette
Five choice ideas for the weekend and beyond in Lafayette/West Lafayette.
The Ted Yoder Band with Lauren Grace, 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, The Arts Federation, 638 North St., Lafayette — The Ouibache Concert Series will welcome hammered dulcimer maestro Ted Yoder and his band this weekend. From national awards to performing live nationwide, Yoder’s prowess earned him the nickname of the “Béla Fleck of the hammered dulcimer,” high praise in the American roots music realm. His cover of the Tears for Fears classic, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” earned Yoder millions of views on YouTube, which showed to the uninformed not only Yoder’s talent but the wide range of sounds the hammered dulcimer can produce. As the HuffPost gushed after a Yoder show, “It’s impossible to imagine that one wooden stringed instrument can sound like an entire rock band or a whole symphony orchestra all in one.” $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Tickets.
Wind Works, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 and 18, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, Long Center for the Performing Arts, 111 N. Sixth St., Lafayette – Purdue University Bands & Orchestras will reside in downtown Lafayette for a weekend of concerts that feature woodwinds and brass in various ensembles. On night one, Friday, Purdue’s Wind Ensemble and Collegiate Band will take the stage. Then it’s the Campus Band and Symphonic Band’s time to shine on Saturday night. Lastly, a Sunday matinee will showcase the talents of the Varsity Band, University Band and Concert Band. These groups feature all Purdue students, most of which play for the passion of performance while they study and research in rigorous academic programs across the Wabash. Performing complicated classical music while exceling in aerospace engineering or health physics is a Boilermaker tradition and must be appreciated and savored. Free.
TEDxPurdueU, noon Saturday, Feb. 18, Loeb Playhouse in the Stewart Center, Purdue University – A “terrarium” of ideas, research and innovation will take the stage when the annual TEDxPurdueU event displays faculty, students and the community’s take on such topics as sustainability, design, entertainment and much more in bite-sized, 18-minute presentations. The event will bring in guest speakers from across the country, too — Professor Luis O. Jiménez-Rodríguez from Pontifical Catholic Universities in Puerto Rico and Colombia, business executive and investigative journalist Eric Schurenberg, and “Rolling Stone” writer Ben Westhoff. $15-$20. Tickets.
CoyoteBear’s Orchestra Phenomena with Davey and the Midnights, 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, Duncan Hall, 619 Ferry St., Lafayette — Cody “CoyoteBear” Hall listened to the harmony in his head as well as the big sounds of his recordings — EP’s “Bitter Taste” and “Hard to Live” as well as his upcoming album, “Too Many Ghosts” — in going all-in for his next show. He assembled an “orchestra” of local musicians to help him present his music live in the way it’s meant to be experienced. With the guitars, bass and drums will be a horn section and string section comprised of members from such acts as Ebony and the Ruckus, The Operators and The Velocity District. Hall said putting this event together shook off the winter doldrums and got him juiced to finally have his studio arrangements heard live. The CoyoteBear sound is eclectic but rooted in folk and Americana with a punk rock energy. This mix with his orchestra behind him should wow fans old and new. Opening this extravaganza will be Davey and the Midnights, a Los Angeles-based country band featuring former Lafayette scene staple Davey Allen. $10. Tickets.
Idol Throne with Cursed Blade and The Alpha Incident, 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18, North End Pub, 2100 Elmwood Ave., Lafayette – The Doom Room and its brand of metal mayhem is finally back. Idol Throne returns to promote its new old-school thrash album, “The Sibylline Age,” featuring the track “Unholy Warrior.” This tune features a heavy metal scream from vocalist Jake Quintanilla that would make a young Tom Araya envious. Opening the show will be Indianapolis metal kings Cursed Blade and The Alpha Incident — a progressive metal Evansville product promoting its slick new album, “Sundowner.” $10.
Tim Brouk is a longtime arts and entertainment reporter. He writes here (almost) weekly, tracking things to do for Based in Lafayette.
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