Sing a Song of Death

This is the story of Sara.  Sara was kind of a wild child who dated a bad boy bartender named Tom.  One day, Sara tires of Tom and meets Michael who is kind, stable, and safe.  Sara and Michael marry.  After a few years, Sara yearns for her former life and contacts Tom and that’s when things take a turn.  This is Murder Ballad, a rock opera written and with lyrics by Julia Jordan with music and lyrics by Juliana Nash and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I could make this the quickest review in history and just say it’s phenomenal.  Go see it.

But you’d probably like to know a little more.

While I was intrigued by the plot of this play, little did I know I would end up watching one of the 5 best shows ever produced at the Playhouse.  Ms Jordan has written a tight, crisp story full of little twists and tragedies and Ms Nash’s music is one of the best musical soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure to hear.

The direction of Jeff Horger is utterly beyond reproach.  The energy of his actors never wanes and his staging is impeccable with his performers never taking a static moment and making use of the entire theatre for their movements.  Horger has also guided his thespians to universally marvelous performances with each actor not only being a top flight singer, but possessed of the ability to act through the songs of this opera.

The highest compliment I can pay to Leanne Hill Carlson’s portrayal of Sara is that I felt not one ounce of sympathy for her.  Zip.  Nada.  Zero.  Ms Hill Carlson has complete mastery of her character as she neatly travels the labyrinth of Sara’s arc.

She begins as the party girl living a vapid existence of partying and sex with Tom.  Then she longs for something of substance and meets Michael.  She seems quite content with a life of domesticity, but still has the appetites of her previous life to which she all too readily succumbs. The guilt of her poor choices clearly weighs on her shoulders, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her with her tendency to jerk around both men in her life.

Ms Hill Carlson also has a terrific higher alto/lower soprano voice with which she emotes the heck out of her songs.  From a bit of sultriness when she tries to seduce Michael when she first meets him, to her boredom of family life, to her regrets at her lousy decisions, Ms Hill Carlson was just a joy to listen to.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character I wanted to put my arm around and buck up more than John E. Jones’ Michael.  Jones has a sweet and haunting tenor voice that added such an emotional purity to his characterization of Michael.  His portrayal of Michael was so full of decency and goodness that I felt my heart drop when Sara began cheating on him and he still sang about how much he loved her and wanted to fix whatever was wrong with their marriage.

But watch out when he learns the truth of his wife’s liaisons.  Then Jones is perfectly believable with his righteous anger at being cuckolded and his determination for vengeance against Tom.

Thomas Gjere’s Tom is a most complex character, indeed.  What I liked most about Tom was that he truly was the reverse of Michael.  Where Michael was all about stability, Tom is instability at its peak.  He begins as being not too bad of a person except for his lust for Sara and I actually felt sympathy for him when he was still toiling away as a bartender regretting not fighting for Sara when she left him.

But that decency rapidly vanishes when he engages in a tawdry affair with a now married Sara and becomes quite the obsessed stalker oozing danger and menace as he darkly tells Sara she belongs to him.  Like Jones, Gjere also has a fantastic tenor voice but he makes certain to mine it for all the malevolence of which it’s capable.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mackenzie Dehmer who makes a stunning debut at the Playhouse with her role of the Narrator.  Trust me, Ms Dehmer is no mere storyteller.  Her Narrator is an integral part of this play as she involves herself in the lives of these characters.  I found myself often watching her just to see her reactions to the events swirling around her.  Ms Dehmer’s Narrator is a pretty dark character, often seeming to enjoy the chaos going on around her, yet seems to have a soft spot for Michael’s plight.  Ms Dehmer also has a powerful alto as she belted out her numbers and her movements were so lithe and smooth.

Technically this show was also a perfect ten.  Jim Othuse has turned the Howard Drew into a perfect dive bar while Darin Kuehler’s properties complete the picture.  And, believe it or not, the audience can order drinks from the bar and play billiards and pinball before the show starts.  Chris Wood’s lighting design was brilliant as his lights transformed with the emotional beats ranging from a sad blue to a hostile red.  Amanda Fehlner costumed her actors precisely to their personalities from Michael’s white collar nature to Tom’s blue collar dangerousness to Sara’s seductiveness and finally to the Narrator’s fun, but dark essence.  Doran Schmidt and her house band rocked all night long.

This is a truly can’t miss spectacle.  In fact, I liked it so much I just may go see it again.  If you want to see a well sung story with compelling characters, you must see Murder Ballad.  It’s the most original and rewarding play produced in years.

Murder Ballad plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through November 20.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to some strong language and adult situations, Murder Ballad is not suitable for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol. 2, Day 2: Arizona Mat and the Very Bad Day

I awoke the next morning with a pounding headache and a sore throat.  I was hoping this sore throat was due to going through a number of berserk weather changes, but given how much my strength was sapped, I began to fear that it was of the viral variety.  Oh, well.  Nothing much that I could do except take it easy.  Given how weak I felt, I contacted the SyFy rep and rescheduled our meeting for next week.

In the meantime, I went into the kitchen and fixed myself a bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and washed it down with a cold glass of water which coated my throat nicely.  I then took a long, hot bath in an attempt to draw out some toxins and eliminate my sore throat more quickly.

After my bath, I diddled around on Arizona Mat’s computer, playing both the original Shadowgate (a classic text adventure game) as well as working on the beta version of the upcoming reboot of the game.  While I gamed, Arizona Mat came out of his bedroom and seemed none the worse for wear.

“Where’s Tall Square?” he asked.

“Nome, AK,” I replied before filling in the details of what had happened the previous day.

“I’ll send him a pair of pants,” said Arizona Mat as he went to get his own breakfast.

While Arizona Mat sat on the couch and munched, the doorbell rang.  He answered the door and there stood a UPS man with a package.

“Package for Mr. Arizona Mat,” said the UPS man.

“That’s me,” said Arizona Mat as he grabbed the package and shut the door in the UPS man’s face.  “That’s strange.  There’s no return address.”

I casually shrugged my shoulders and went to the kitchen to get some more water.  I heard Arizona Mat open the box and a few moments later, I heard a loud BAMF!!  I turned to look at Arizona Mat and saw him holding a smoldering package, his face and hair now blackened by soot.  I stifled a chuckle as he now reminded me of a victim of Jokey Smurf and his explosive surprises.

“I’m going to go wash up,” Arizona Mat said tightly.

As he cleaned himself up, a car pulled into the driveway and a young man came into the house.  He introduced himself as Mongrel, another sidekick of Arizona Mat’s.  He was a tall man with a sharp, chiseled chin and ash blonde hair.  Mongrel was quite a bit more likable than Tall Square so I could only conclude that he was either the most laid back guy in the world or hadn’t had enough exposure to Arizona Mat’s neurotic behavior.  Apparently, he had been acting as caretaker of the estate while Arizona Mat and Tall Square had been engaged in their handshake duel.

After washing up, Arizona Mat announced that we were going to go play frisbee golf at Paseo Vista.  It was a rather pleasant outing as we had gone out early enough in the day so the weather was hot, but not scorching.  That is, it was a pleasant outing until the 12th hole.  Arizona Mat’s shot had gone a little wide and he went to retrieve his frisbee at the same time that a car was exiting the course.  As soon as the driver caught sight of Arizona Mat, he or she gunned the motor and started chasing after him.

Mongrel and I scrambled to the top of one of the retaining walls and watched as the car pursued Arizona Mat all over the course, tearing up the ground and mowing down the plant life.  I’ll say this.  For a stocky guy, Arizona Mat could really sprint.  Mongrel and I attempted to call 911, but we were out of range of cellular towers and could only watch as Arizona Mat was hunted like an animal.  I tried to get a look at the driver, but the windows were tinted.

Finally, Arizona Mat managed to get inside one of the tunnel obstacles on the course.  Too sturdy for the car to hit and too narrow for the car to continue chasing Arizona Mat.  Reluctantly, the car turned around and left the course.

“Are you all right?” I asked the “explorer”.

“Of course I am,” Arizona Mat replied with his customary egoism.  “All in a day’s work for an intrepid explorer.”

“I think we should call the police,” said Mongrel.

“No.  Undoubtedly, it was some deranged fan.  I’m certain he’ll disappear and trouble me no further.”

So what have we learned, kids?  Nothing helps a problem more like ignoring it.

We returned to Arizona Mat’s home and he and Mongrel decided to swim in the pool while I decided to lie down for a little bit, as the heat and sore throat were rapidly sapping my vitality.  I ended up catching a catnap and when I awoke 40 minutes later, I decided I wanted to swim too.

As I began to head out to the pool, I heard a series of smacks and splats.  I gazed out the window and saw Arizona Mat and Mongrel seemingly slapping the water with foam noodles for no apparent reason.  As I looked more closely, I saw that the two were actually being attacked by a small army.

Wasps!  Hundreds of them flitted around the two.  They were using the water to avoid being bitten and using the noodles and their hands to swat the pests.  I saw that the wasps seemed to be coming from behind Arizona Mat’s waterfall, so I rummaged through his garage and found a bug bomb and carefully made my way behind the waterfall, covering myself with a towel to avoid being bitten.

When I made it behind the waterfall, I found the culprit.  Someone had left a wasp’s farm behind the waterfall.  I activated the bomb and watched as the wasps began to succumb to its effects.

“I really think we should call the police,” I said a short time later.

“Never!” declared Arizona Mat.  “I laugh in the face of danger.”

I rolled my eyes and saw Mongrel sadly shaking his head.

After the insect jamboree, Arizona Mat took us to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings where we enjoyed a night of good food and trivia.  Our table dominated the trivia night which prompted Arizona Mat to constantly whoop and holler.  Finally one of the patrons seemed to have had enough and told Arizona Mat to shut up.

“Bite me!” replied Arizona Mat.

“I think I don’t like you,” replied the patron.

Arizona Mat ignored him.

“I said, I don’t think I like you,” repeated the patron.

Arizona Mat continued ignoring him.

“Are you listening to me?” asked the patron.

“There’s a fine line between not listening and not caring and I like to think I walk that line every day,” said Arizona Mat smugly.

The patron pulled Arizona Mat from his stool and the  fight was on.  Soon everybody in the joint was getting into it.  I ducked behind the bar with a couple of the pretty waitresses and got their numbers while I watched the place turn into a shambles.  As the brawl intensified, I looked out the window and saw a powerfully built figure standing by a car, intensely watching.  As police cars began pulling up to the restaurant, the figure got into a car and drove away.

After I bailed Arizona Mat out of jail, I told him that I suspected that the fight had been deliberately started.

“Of course it was.  Nobody starts one accidentally.”

“No, I mean somebody got that guy to pick a fight with you.”

“Nonsense.”

As we pulled into Arizona Mat’s driveway, we all saw that someone had painted a message on his garage door.

PLEASANT DREAMS, ARIZONA MAT.  TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.

Mongrel and I looked at Arizona Mat who had visibly paled.