By: Sandi Durell
The newly configured Union Square Theater – clues are a calling card. A billiard table, with a bat lying in wait, surrounded by cabaret-style tables and chairs, a small stage, a dive bar interior – to which you can belly on up for a drink. A lot different from its original haunt at the Manhattan Theatre Club uptown where it had an initial run. Seating is set up on 3 sides so you feel as if you’ve got a stake in what’s about to unfold in Mark Wendland’s set design.
Julia Jordan (book and lyrics) and Juliana Nash (music and lyrics) have conceived a pop rock-eretta around the ancient tale of who’s cheating with whom. When a swinging downtown Sara (Caissie Levy), finds herself split from her sexy, torrid romance with bartender boyfriend Tom (Will Swenson), she tries to forget those hot, steamy and passionate, bordering on violent, encounters by taking the straight and narrow with uptown poetry professor Michael (John Ellison Conlee), with whom she has a child. Life for the now upper Westside Mom is . . . boring. And so the pull of her gritty liaison with Tom winds up front and center as relationships whirl out of control.
Now mind you, we’re hearing information not always sung by the protagonists, but instead by the narrator, another good looker bargirl in a bra and whatnot, Rebecca Naomi Jones. It’s lowdown, grimy in its feel – just perfect for the love triangle that unfolds in the 80 minutes as the actors move about, in between, on and over the staging area singing their tale of lust, betrayal, sorrow and hot sex.
The music has its moments, the lyrics can occasionally be trite, the performances are gut-filled. Who swings the bat? Who gets the girl? And what about the narrator?
With Ben Stanton’s haunting lighting and Jessica Pabst’ grungy – look costumes, “Murder Ballad” comes in as an ode to infidelity, suitably choreographed by Doug Varone and directed by Trip Cullman. The 5 piece band, conducted by Justin Levine, is scattered in different parts of the space.
Thru Sept. 29th – Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street, NYC 800 982-2787