The Laramie project, written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, is a play that has been particularly overdone since its opening in Denver in 2000. In part because it deals with real human responses to the tragic beating and subsequent death of Matthew Shephard and in part because it has the ability to illicit a distinct response from its audience.
So it was then that Mockingbird theatre launched with The Laramie Project. Directed by Chris Baldock and featuring a cast of eight diverse actors, the play was simply staged with eight chairs, a choice employed by Baldock to no doubt focus on the text and the story. The trouble is, the play is so long that even with two intervals and three acts it is particularly drawn out. This is heightened in a black box theatre that has very little scope for effect. The first 40 minutes of the play are laborious and tedious and it is not until the final 20 minutes of act 1 that both the action and the performances take a turn for the better.
Performances from the cast were varied throughout the evening. Often they are parodied, or judgemental, dismantling the audiences ability to weigh up the facts of the story honestly. In other moments they are moving and raw penetrating the lines of the script and transcending into the heart of the character. Accents are skillfully honoured by the cast, with vocal nuance being a particular highlight of the show. Sarah Rueben epitomises this nuance of character with her particularly strong vocal range and colouring throughout the play. Other Notable performances of the evening were Christian Heath's Matt Galloway, Luke Mckenzie's Roulon Stacey and Adam Ward's Dennis Shephard.
Bolder decisions with character could have also lifted the show. There were some particularly fine moments of understated acting, however, there were certain characters that needed to be explored far deeper and pushed far further to eliminate the neutral wash that enveloped the play for lengthy periods. With a play of this magnitude , some visual and audio effects would have helped solidify the show. Finally deep into Act III we had our first audio effect, the police audio file containing the confession of the alleged murderer Aaron McKinney. It was a fantastic moment that ended far too soon, to have only heard more of this in the dark. It was chilling and enhanced the story.
The Laramie Project can be a particularly powerful piece of theatre and while Mockingbird theatre's production is in moments vibrant and moving, it is unfortunately not sustained throughout, with the text not being enough on this occasion to keep us interested.