SALT LAKE CITY — Ballad of a Meadow, written and performed as a one-man play by Omar J. Hansen and produced by the Great Bear Folk Theatre, is a deeply moving story of a man who was a part of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah on September 11, 1857. It was a much different style of show than many of the other shows at the Fringe, which was a nice contrast. Hansen’s show was even more interesting with his original songs he played on the guitar.
At the beginning, Hansen’s character confessed to ordering the Indians to kill the Arkansas pioneers who were massacred in Utah on their way to California. Then he went into a lot of history, most of which was applicable and interesting, though sometimes there were moments I didn’t quite see the connection to the main story, like why he talked about federal troops coming to Utah to do away with slavery and polygamy. I also thought his second song slowed down the story by repeating emotionless information about what he had just shared. On the other hand, there was a song near the end that did the opposite, where it really held onto the strong feelings he had just expressed and ingrained them more deeply through music, and was very effective. Hansen’s presentation was solid: he had great focus, spoke clearly and loudly, and shared a depth of emotion that surprised me so much I joined in tears when he finally shared the harsh details of his part in the massacre. It was powerfully captivating and a great history lesson.
The music was simple country sounding, and made me want to go discover new frontiers too. I especially enjoyed the song ending with, “Where the Wind Does Blow,” which was fun and upbeat. I left with his opening and closing song, “Take Me Home” pleasantly stuck in my head. Yet, the beginning of Ballad of a Meadow seemed a little scattered, and while performing “I’m an Old Man” he stopped singing but kept playing like he was trying to remember the words to the song, although that could have been his character choice, considering the song. Another time he repeated the same couple of phrases when sharing the part about the woman who wrote the first true history of the massacre, Juanita Leavett, that I didn’t think was necessary.
Hansen changed characters a few times to help tell the story and his depictions were artfully done. I could actually see a new person for when he played Brigham Young with a powerfully strong and obstinate attitude, and John D. Lee with his solemn fortitude in the face of execution. His interesting facial expressions assisted his story and added a depth of character and emotion. He can seriously do a lot with his eyebrows.
I really enjoyed this performance and appreciated the history lesson. It made me ask myself what murder can do to someone, how it affects their life and soul, not matter what the circumstances were surrounding that act. If Hansen had made it a little more action-packed and took out some of the unnecessary historical facts, I think Ballad of a Meadow would be just right.