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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Murder Ballad
Studio Theatre

Also see Susan's reviews of Uncle Vanya and Dame Edna's Glorious Goodbye: The Farewell Tour

Cole Burden, Christine Dwyer, and Tommar Wilson
The production of Murder Ballad now in Stage 4 at Washington's Studio Theatre offers a unique and immersive experience, but audience members will have to work to get to it. Studio has reconfigured its top-floor space as a grimy bar; visitors get their hands stamped before they enter the building through a door in an alley and climb three flights of stairs. Once in the space, patrons can buy drinks from the working bar (before and after, not during, the show) and sit at small tables as the action explodes around them.

The authors, Julia Jordan (book, lyrics, conceived by) and Juliana Nash (music and lyrics), come from a rock background and wanted to create a story that could be propelled by one song flowing into the next. (The through-sung performance runs about 80 minutes.) The murder ballad is a tradition that dates back to traditional folk music and continues in rock, blues, country, and other forms.

The authors' stripped-down plot consists of three main characters and a narrator (Anastacia McCleskey). In trendy Lower Manhattan, Sara (Christine Dwyer) and Tom (Cole Burden) can't keep their hands off each other, but Sara wants a commitment that Tom isn't able to give. Sara soon meets Michael (Tommar Wilson), a sensitive graduate student, and they build a life together—but Sara can't completely get the thrill of her days with Tom out of her mind.

The Narrator propels the action from one location to the next on Andrew Cohen's all-encompassing set; a cigarette machine stands at one side and a pool table is in a place of prominence at the center of the playing area. Andrew Cissna's lighting design uses strands of colored lights, gaudy and mismatched chandeliers, and a mirror ball along with burning spotlights to illuminate the cavernous space.

As directed fluidly by David Muse, all four actors get a chance to shine: conflicted Dwyer, combustible Burden, seemingly content Wilson, and all-knowing McCleskey. Nancy Bannon is credited as movement director, which includes both sexual and fight choreography. Music director Darren E. Cohen is part of a hard-working four-piece band that, like the actors, never gets a chance to rest.

Studio Theatre
Murder Ballad
April 15th - May 17th
Conceived by and book and lyrics by Julia Jordan
Music and lyrics by Juliana Nash
Sara: Christine Dwyer
Narrator: Anastacia McCleskey
Tom: Cole Burden
Michael: Tommar Wilson
Directed by David Muse
Music director: Darren R. Cohen
Stage 4 at The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or

Photo: Igor Dmitry

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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