Theater preview: “Murder Ballad” is a new take on an old form

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From the August 7, 2014 edition

“Murder Ballad,” premiering Thursday at the Short North Stage, takes the longstanding musical tales of murder and revenge borne centuries ago and adds a modern twist with its production. The foundation is a love triangle — between a husband and wife, and her bad-boy ex — that spirals from lust and compassion into misery, anger and death.

“It’s all based on this idea of murder ballads … this oral tradition has even been passed down to more current music, like Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ or ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ by The Beatles. All these songs are actually murder ballads — this idea of a story told almost as a defense, or a ghost story, of a murder and how it happened,” said director Edward Carignan, who recently moved to Columbus from New York City, during a phone interview.

One of the signature aspects of “Murder Ballad” is the avant-garde stage setting that envelops the audience, developed for more thrilling involvement.

“It’s a very interesting show that’s part of a new trend in theatre right now, especially in New York City,” Carignan said. “[It’s this] immersive theatre experience where the audience’s role isn’t necessarily the traditional sit-back-in-your-seat and let the actors do their thing. This breaks all those rules and it’s a really visceral experience because all of the action is happening around you, within feet of you.”

During a rehearsal earlier this week, the kinetic energy of the show was bolstered by the unconventional setting — a four-foot bar acting as the stage, with the audience sitting at tables surrounding it. The four actors move all around the room, making it feel more like a wild night in a shadowy haunt than a typical theatre performance.

“[Columbus] is a very cool town, open to the idea of experimental theatre and new forms of art,” Carignan said. “I think the Short North Stage is really on board with progressing Columbus’ view of theatre and I think this show really fits with … something this town has never seen before, and is being experimented with in New York’s Off-Broadway scene.”

Heather Wack/Haute Stuff Studio