In October of 1998 a man named Matthew Shepard was beaten and left for dead outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard eventually died from his injuries, and his murderers were tried and convicted in a scandal that left the rest of the country questioning the wholesome values that American small towns are supposed to have. Moises Kauffman and his Tectonic Theater Project made a play about the events back in 2001 (which was later adapted into a film) and the Gallery Players revived it, showing that this story is just as relevant in Brooklyn as it was in the Midwest.
The play is pieced together from interviews with the residents of Laramie, as well as journal entries. It constantly breaks the fourth wall, documentary-style, with the actors informing the audience which Laramie resident they’re playing, and plenty of monologs directed right at the audience. Kauffman’s edit of the interviews gives a fair account of the events, even allowing the killers some stage time (police interviews and court transcripts). The folk of Laramie come off sounding pretty good, despite being from what might be deemed a society hip-deep with intolerance. The play addresses the issues of hate and redemption in a very powerful way, and everyone can expect to be touched on some level by Shepard’s story.
Because the show was written from the perspective of members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, it took a bit of adjustment to accept the Gallery Players when they spoke, in character, as members of the Tectonic Theatre Project. For example when Joe Rux was first introduced as Tectonic Theater Project’s Artistic Director “Moises Kauffman,” it required an extra bit of suspension of disbelief to buy into it (the audience know he’s some guy playing Kauffman). It didn’t take long to set that aside, though, and soon it became easy to accept the Gallery Players as both the Tectonics and as the citizens of Laramie.
This is in no small part due to the skill of the cast members. Of particular note, among the uniformly capable cast, were Daniel Damiano, who played Doc O’Conner, with a dead-on accent, and Jill Michael, who portrayed a very diverse array of characters including a Midwestern Muslim.
There was a good deal of tech in the show, including a small screen upstage for video and some still images, which was also used to simulate the media frenzy, when live actors stood amidst a mob of video cameras right onstage. Lighting (designed by Jennette Kollmann) was also effective, especially when a warm orange glow filled the stage to represent a candlelight vigil for Shepard.
It hasn’t been so long since Mathew Shepard’s death, or since the first production of The Laramie Project, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that this revival was still very timely. For those who didn’t see the various productions by the Tectonic Theater Project, this production was a worthy follow-up, and a great second chance to experience this unique theatrical experience.
Also featuring: Kathy Cortez Flannery Foster, Steve Nagle, Joe Rux, Stephen Tyrone Williams, and Anna-Elise Wincorn.)
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Copyright 2005 Charles Battersby