Theatre Review: Murder Ballad Sizzles on Stage
Murder Ballad premiered last night at Short North Stage. Originally an off-broadway production, it is the cautionary tale of what can happen when the monotony of life overcomes you to the point that you find yourself fantasizing about the one who got away and allow lust to take over. The play opens with the Murder Ballad and warns, “Listen and I’ll tell a tale, a tale where good does not prevail, a King, a Queen, a Club, a Knave, one is destined for the grave.”
The set makes use of the deck of cards theme, with cards sprinkled throughout the venue. The play was performed in The Green Room, located inside The Garden Theater. The stage is a 4-foot high, 360 degree bar in the center of the room. The play takes place in New York City and the set has a dark and gritty feel to it. The Green Room is a small room, and with the large bar, the actors are up close and personal with the audience. With such a simple set, the lighting, dialogue, and the actors themselves were vital in helping the audience visualize the imaginary sets, such as a corner of the bar being a bed, or a corner of the room being Central Park.
The play centers around four characters. Tom (Jason Carl Crase) and Sara (Kaitlin Descutner) are young partiers in love in New York City. After their relationship falls apart, Sara gets drunk and meets the stereotypical nice guy, Michael (Nick Cirillo) with a PhD in poetry, who won’t kiss her because she’s wasted. Michael and Sara fall in love, get married, and have a daughter (who is not cast in the play, just implied.) The fourth cast member is the nameless Narrator (Corinne Davis). With “murder” being in the name of the play, you will find yourself constantly wondering who will be the murderer and who will be the victim.
The music lived up to the name of the play and the songs were imaginative, simple, and catchy. The band sounded terrific – the guitar had a Green Day feel to it and the piano was reminiscent of Ben Folds. While I could tell that all the performers had great vocal range, I would have liked to have seen this in a slightly larger venue or in a room with better acoustics. Even though Murder Ballad is meant to be an intimate production, the sound in this room could not handle the louder ballads like “You Belong to Me” and there was frequent feedback. The vocals of the female singers were frequently overpowered by the band, making it very hard to hear the lyrics of the music. The central stage also presented two problems: 1.) If the actors were singing in the other direction they were very hard to hear, and 2.) from my seat, the height of the bar put the performers’ heads directly in the path of the lighting, which could be a bit blinding.
The performances were very raw and edgy. Each role had its own light and dark side, and each performer successfully showed the duality of their character, something that will have you guessing about the murder until the very end.
Photos courtesy Short North Stage.
Murder Ballad runs August 7-August 16 for 5 performances. For more information and tickets visit shortnorthstage.org.