Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play

Bryn Mawr’s mainstage production this spring, “Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play,” could be described as dark. Not just because of piece’s post-apocalyptic themes, but because it took place without the usual burst of stage lighting that one might expect at the theater. As audience members entered, they were requested to hand over all electronic devices to an attendant for safekeeping, and informed that the only electricity used in the show was that which cast members could generate themselves. Because I didn’t have my phone with me, the only photo I can share from the evening is of the program.

The dimness of the scenes pulled the audience into the post-electric world of the play’s title. At a typical theater production, it’s easy to suspend your disbelief and grow accustomed to the unnatural lighting of the stage. In this play, the lack of light was at times a challenge, making it harder to see what was going on, and at times drew me into the performance, making me feel the reality of the events onstage.

Another example of the wonderful creativity of the production was how each of the three acts took place in a different location. The audience walked as a group to each, led by lantern-swinging attendants. The first act took place outdoors near the goose pond. In a previous, professional, production I  saw of this play, this act was shown onstage in a conventional theater space, and used a replica of a flickering campfire as a prop. In Bryn Mawr’s production, the actors and audience sat around a bona fide fire. We could smell the smoke and feel the cool dusk air on our skin. Nostalgia, memories of childhood summers and beach sunsets, became flooded with unease as the characters’ conversation revealed that they were the survivors of a nuclear disaster.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot—if such a word even applies to the work’s nontraditional format—of this innovative play. The script is naturalistic, poignant, funny, and truly committed to the world it builds. The unexpected ending is a tour de force. To me, “Mr. Burns” works to discover how rituals originate. Maybe the myths we tell are not literally true, but they don’t need to be; they don’t exist to be logical, they exist to make sense of the world. The traditions that seem arbitrary, or irrelevant to the modern age, exist because at some time, our ancestors, sitting around a campfire, looked around the dark world and searched for patterns that made them feel safer.


The first time I visited Bryn Mawr’s campus was in April of 2015. I was a senior in high school and the cherry trees were in full bloom. I stayed with a current student whose life seemed unbelievable to me. She lived with her roommate in a chaotically messy room, unsupervised by adults, and at around 10 p.m. she took us to the art studio to paint, which seemed to me like the height of freedom and excess. I’ve been thinking of that weekend lately. Campus has been filled with the newest batch of prospective students, including one from my own former high school.

The cherry trees are in bloom again; we had a couple of hot, summery days this past weekend. It was a heat that seeps under your skin, a tangible heat. Now it’s back to gray, but I wanted to share some photos of the blossoms. The draping trees on the pathway outside of Rock erupted in garlands of pink and white petals overnight. The campus still looks wintry in some ways—the trees along senior row are totally bare—and it’s kind of funny to see the unevenness of the turning seasons.

A while ago I stumbled upon a treasure at a used book sale called “Twelve Moons of the Year,” which is a series of 365 little essays by Hal Borland. Each essay corresponds to a specific date, and observes some aspect of the natural world in that point of the year. It’s a very specific year, of course, a temperate, deciduous rural North American year. The whole project has an old-fashioned tone. It’s something from before the era of global warming, and long before the era of ubiquitous screens and social media. And that makes it all the more comforting to me: this idea that the world will always ebb and flow, and the beautiful things you remember will always come back faithfully. One of the essays in late April reads, “Now come the surge and the insistence of growth. For a few weeks we will scarcely be able to keep up with change, which is everywhere. The miracle is not so much in budding and leafing and the opening of petals, but in the very magnitude of burgeoning and blossoming…And every day is another moment in the incredible, inevitable genesis of another year.”

Why shouldn’t we call this the new year? We’re racing to the end of the semester, but it’s also a time of beginnings and returnings. High schools seniors prepare for the beginning of their college careers, and college seniors prepare to head down unknown paths. The blossoming around me is a reminder of where I was three years ago, just as much as it is a furious and insistent call toward new adventure.

Bryn Mawr Reading Series: Ocean Vuong

 I found a seat in the Great Hall just minutes before the poet Ocean Vuong’s reading began. The setting sun cast rosy light through the high stained glass windows. “Ocean Vuong’s poetry takes a complex approach to all that geography holds, the intimate failures of history, and the victory available in visiting and revisiting one’s memories of space and time,” Professor Matthews of the Creative Writing department said in her introduction. Then the poet stood up and gave us a shy wave as he approached the podium. He said it was fitting, although almost redundant, to read in the church-like setting of the Great Hall, because “poetry is a kind of church.” With his round reading glasses and high collar, Vuong transformed into a temporary priest of poetry.

He read several poems from his collection “Night Sky with Exit Wounds” and then a sizable excerpt—a “hybrid essay”—from a forthcoming novel. At some readings I’ve attended, the visiting writers will tell stories in between poems, tell the backstory of how that particular piece came into existence, for instance, or some other musing that comes to mind. Vuong was spare with his comments. He drew our attention to themes of fatherhood, marginalization, and queer identity, but for the most part the poems spoke for themselves.  

Vuong’s soft voice echoed and dispersed. He drew out soft consonants. The rhythm of his poetry is a steady ebb and flow. At one point in the excerpt from his novel, a character sings, and instead of simply reading the lyrics, Vuong broke out into song. Unexpectedly. Mournfully. Watching him sing was like staring into a bright lamp. After I looked away everything else seemed dim.

Exploring Germantown

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will be interning this summer in Philadelphia. Specifically, I will be working in Germantown. A lot of people I talk to are not familiar with this neighborhood, so I thought I’d write a little bit about it.

Located in northwest Philadelphia, Germantown was once a separate township from “old Philadelphia.” The area was largely isolated from the rest of the city until 1884, when a railroad line was built to connect Philadelphia with outlying parts of the county. This led to heavy development in Germantown, and it became a thriving commercial and residential district. By the 1970s, however, due to white flight and blockbusting, Germantown suffered economically. Stores boarded up their windows and the area became crime-ridden. In the present day, you can clearly see that Germantown has had a turnaround.

Walking along Germantown Avenue, you can see restaurants, bustling shops, pedestrians, and cafes. Germantown strikes me as a friendly neighborhood. Elderly neighbors walking outside wished me a good afternoon, while parents picking up their children chatted in the early spring sunlight. The history of the area is easy to see, in the beautiful old houses, the church graveyards, and the many marked historic sites. For example, George Washington’s “Summer White House,” his escape from the Yellow Fever epidemic of the city, is located in Germantown.

Germantown is not very accessible from Bryn Mawr by public transit—it is possible to take a train and then a bus, but the trip takes about an hour. This summer I’ll be living much closer, and I’m excited to have more opportunities to explore.