The cast of The Laramie Project. Photo: IUS Theatre Dept.
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The Laramie Project
By Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project
Directed by J. Barrett Cooper
A Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Although you will learn the details of the horrific crime that resulted in Matthew Shepard’s death in 1998, The Laramie Project is not really about Shepard but about the community in which it occurred. Assumptions are easy from a distance, but the residents of Laramie posed the same questions we might have: how could this have happened here? “We don’t raise monsters!”
Yet the play, developed from some 600 interviews, peels back the layers until we begin to see the attitudes that allow the foundation for hate and intolerance to build. One local considers that maybe the fault could be divided “about 50/50” between Shepard and his assailants. Everyone claims that there are plenty of gays in Laramie and that it doesn’t seem to bother anybody unless they “try something” with the wrong kind of people.
It is fascinating to revisit this material at a moment when so many Americans are asking “how did we come to this pass?” However much we want to find easy answers painted in broad strokes, Moises Kaufman and his collaborators remind us how complex and subtle is the landscape of complacency and contempt. None of us are culpable; all of us are culpable.
I’ve seen productions of The Laramie Project that pushed the emotional qualities of the piece for a more visceral impact, and the moment when Shepard’s father, Dennis (Jaime Young) addresses the court during the sentencing phase for one of the assailants’ trial is an invitation for histrionics, but his words are thoughtful and measured and are here delivered with discipline. Under J. Barrett Cooper’s direction, the docudrama aspect of the piece rises to the forefront, and the horrific nature of the tragedy is viewed more dispassionately. It forces us to identify with the middling complacency at play in the scenario, the difficult truth that inaction can be as dangerous as overt acts of hatred.
The 10-person ensemble fills the expansive stage with deliberate positioning that recognizes the open space of western states, a motif reinforced by the use of a spare piano arrangement of Aaron Copland’s score for the Billy the Kid ballet. We tend to view such hate crimes as claustrophobic events, but violence visited upon Matthew Shepard happened on a fence line that symbolized the wide-open spaces of the western heartland of America.
The cast all fill out multiple roles, and although there are a few instances of some slight overplaying, this is very good work, with some especially fine moments from the aforementioned Mr. Young, Katie Graviss Bechtler, Rebecca Von Allmen, and Connor Madison.
Featuring Rebecca Von Allmen, Katie Graviss Bechtler, Gracie Kaine, Mason Lin, Connor Madison, Dylan Nash, Cindy Schrader, Rachel Street, Wesley Stroud, & Jaime Young.
The Laramie Project
December 5, 6, & 7 @ 8:00 PM
December 8 @ 2:30 PM
IUS Theatre Department
The Ogle Center
4201 Grant Line Road
New Albany, Indiana 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.