‘Americana: A Murder Ballad’ (Assembly Checkpoint) | Review By Lewis C. Baird

‘Americana: A Murder Ballad’ tells the tale of a nation’s youth trapped in a murder ballad they cannot escape. A gunman lurks on every corner. He’s behind you. He’s beside you. He’s inside you. This is freedom. This is a warzone. This is Americana. How do we break the ballad? 

Cole Wagner portrays the writer, a deeply complex character who is desperately trying to control the narrative. The unhinged sense of Cole’s portrayal leaves the audience on edge, wondering who this person truly is and what they can truly unleash. There is always a sense of intrigue, loads of questions to unravel. The sense of evil Cole presents us, leaves us uncomfortable. This is a malicious and complex portrayal from this young performer. 

This production features a highly talented ensemble that bring truly gripping portrayals of teens fearful for their own and each other’s lives. The vocal and acting talent is fathomless, they have complete control of the tone of the piece and are not afraid to leave the audience feeling fearful or tense. The ensemble are as follows Lauren Lorati (Pearl/Number 1), Matthew Hamm (David/Number 2), Penny Devlin (Frankie/Number 3), Brykell Killingsworth (Johnny/Number 4), Kayla Bryant (Polly/Number 5), Sam Brock (Knox/Number 6), Ryan Koss (Tom/Number 7), Juliet Johnson (Ellen/Number 8), Spencer Williams (Lee/Number 9), Haley Powell (Delia/Number 10) & Zoë Prior (Rose/Number 11). 

Morna Young’s book for this production has strength in the poetic nuance present within the text, exploring character’s individual narratives in such a creative manner. We see very current themes and issues explored in the form of mass shootings, especially in America, therefore there is a certain poignancy to the text. However, the exploration of these issues are diluted through the narrative which although is equipped to bring a strong message in relation to recent events, fails to do so. When the veil is lifted in the endgame of the plot, it is a confusing anti-climax that lets down the successful set-up for a powerful closing note. 

Davey Anderson’s music for this production helps drive along the action, presenting the character’s perspective through a mostly varied score. Cathy Thomas-Grant’s direction pushes the emotion, the darkness, and also the complex inner conflict of the teenagers, with a contemporary scope. With this Cathy utilizes the small space well, lifting all scenes with energy and integrating the characters into the audience. Haley Powell’s movement direction helps add depth to the blocking of the small space. The one constraint movement-wise was the limitation of there only being three hand mics instead of all the actors having a head mic, or even just more microphone coverage on stage in general. This meant there were a lot of times where the performers were having to focus on their voices being picked up rather than character movement. 

Overall, ‘Americana: A Murder Ballad’ presents audiences with a creative and tense production that explores important, current issues. The execution of this exploration into gun violence isn’t quite the payoff that audiences would hope for. However, the cast are extremely talented and there is a great concept here. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Get your tickets for ‘Americana: A Murder Ballad’ below:


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