BWW Reviews: THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER Makes its L.A. Premiere a Memorable Theatrical Experience
On October 6, 1998, a gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, left the Fireside Bar with Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. The following day he was discovered at The Edge of town where he was tied to a fence, brutally beaten and close to death. By the following day, Matthew's attack and the town of Laramie had become he focus of an international news story. Six days later, Matthew Shepard died.
In February 2000, Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project premiered The Laramie Project in Denver The play draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the theatre company with inhabitants of the town, company members' own journal entries, and published news reports. It is divided into three acts, and eight actors portray more than sixty characters in a series of short scenes
In 2008, with the tenth anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder approaching, Moisés Kaufman started thinking about legacy, transformation and about what had come out of Matthew's murder. How had Laramie ultimately been affected by the crime and the media frenzy that followed? Several members of the Tectonic Project returned to Laramie to ask many of their original interviewees how the town had changed, and also interviewed people they hadn't talked to the first time, including the perpetrators of the murder as well as Matthew's mother, Judy Shepard. THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER is the result of those interviews.
On October 6, 2013, the 15th anniversary Shepard's brutal attack, I attended the Los Angeles premiere of THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valenti Theatre as a way of honoring the memory of a young man whose legacy has led to legislation for equal rights, Gay Pride parades, as well as open communication and freedom of expression, but there is still a long way to go.
Written by Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber, and directed with keen insight by Ken Sawyer, the production will run through November 16 with performances on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm. General admission is $25 on Friday and Saturday, and $20 on Sunday. Tickets are available online at www.lagaycenter.org/theatre, or by calling (323) 860-7300. Shaunessy Quinn is the assistant director and stage manager, and Jon Imparato, artistic director of the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center, is producer.
The cast features (in alphabetical order) Paul Haitkin, Michael Hanson, Elizabeth Herron, Carl J. Johnson, Che Landon, Ed F. Martin, Ann Noble, Dylan Seaton, Christine Sloane, and Paul Witten, with Johanna Chase on guitar singing/playing the moving "Morning Comes."
THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER is a play meant to be experienced, not just seen. And you will be fully immersed from the moment you walk inside this intimate theater-in-the-round staging with set design by Robert Selander and lighting design by Luke Moyer. With the silhouettes of the audience seated across the room against the background of rolling hills, sky and prairie on the theater walls, about 50 seats (some of which are taken by members of the cast), and the stage no more than 10 feet away, you will feel as if you are right there in Laramie, literally pulled into the lives of every person represented onstage.
Most of the actors play several well-defined roles, most often with the addition of a single piece of clothing, from the members of the Tectonic Theater Project conducting the interviews to the many residents of Laramie, some of whom were first introduced in the original play. But now it seems the town is split on whether the attack was simply a case of robbery gone terribly wrong or a hate crime from the very beginning of Shepard accepting a ride from the men. We also get a look inside the Wyoming legislature as the definition of marriage is brought up for a vote. And some of the residents comment that there is a feeling in the air around Laramie in September-October that brings memories of the crime back, even when they really don't want to remember it at all.
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