…was friggin awesome.
The unearthly dive bar set and production design, the blocking, the singing, the harmonization, the lyrics, the music composition, the acting, everything clicked. This performance of Murder Ballad that I saw tonight was one of the great pieces of art of any medium that I have seen in my lifetime.
Reading the description of the play beforehand, I had no idea what to expect. “Sara’s life is perfect—Upper West Side husband, daughter, and life—until her irresistible past blows back into her life in the form of an old flame,” I read on Studio Theatre’s website. The invocation of New York, love triangles, and capital crimes, things that seemed to amount to a grand retread, made for minimal anticipatory excitement.
Rather than a sensationalized, operatic melodrama, the story turned out to be a easy-to-follow and grounded allegory of romantic indecision, loneliness, attention-seeking, and confusion (grounded for the most part — I won’t spoil the ending, but hey, curiosity, not sensationalism, killed the cat). The plot was one of universal relatability, but with enough unique and personal identifiers for the characters such that the story still contained characters that felt like ambiguous, hypocritical, contradictory humans rather than thesis articulators.
I think I started enjoying the show as soon as the full cast appeared in the first number. And the enjoyment did not let up. I could not restrain myself from leaping up to applaud and cheer at the closing of the show (Oh, how cathartic that final number was!) in recognition of the energy the cast and the band had compounded in the preceding 75 minutes. My delight was earnest and impossible to contain. I only wish that more of the audience (an older, more uptight crowd) could have restrained themselves less. Of course, I also recognize the efforts of the unseen director, David Muse, in shaping this production and the authors of the source material, Julia Jordan (concept and lyrics) and Juliana Nash (music and lyrics). Having now seen and savored two David Muse productions (Cock before Murder Ballad), it would not be hard to sway me into attending future shows he is directing.
In the ensuing weeks, the actors will have to perform twice a day on some days. I do not know how they manage this and feel privileged to have caught the show on the opening weekend, fresh actors and all. Long term sustaining of energy over days and months is a facet of mental strength I really admire.
Washington, D.C. is blessed to have an institution such as Studio Theatre put on the off-kilter stuff it does in this era of calculated artistic risk (or lack thereof). Go see Murder Ballad before it closes on May 10th if you are in the metropolitan area!