Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT at THEATRE SUBURBIA

marks a somber 25th year anniversary

By: Sep. 20, 2023
Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT at THEATRE SUBURBIA

It has been twenty-five years since the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.  It was a story that captured the world’s attention, and paved a road that finally led to hate crime legislation over a decade later.  At one time THE LARAMIE PROJECT was the “most produced” play in America.  It sprang up all over the country in community theaters and professional houses to educate the masses on what Matthew and his death meant to the town of Laramie and the world at large.  But this year, as we reach that major milestone anniversary… there is only one place where you can see this production.  And that is at Theatre Suburbia, Houston’s longest running all-volunteer playhouse on the northwest side of town.  Hats off to them for gathering together a diverse cast, and letting this play speak its message once more.  It’s a moving tribute, and just in time to remind us that things are better but not by much.  


THE LARAMIE PROJECT is far from a traditional piece of theater, it is assembled from the real transcripts of people that were there and around the incident in the town where it happened.  It includes voices on both sides of that fateful fence, and it presents them unvarnished and raw.  It’s not a play about a gay man, but rather a meditation on how a small town could harbor monsters who would torture and kill him simply because he was.  The play asks a handful of actors to portray 82 characters, many of whom simply say two lines and disappear.  It’s a huge sprawl spanning almost three hours, and asks a lot of any company.  

Luckily Theatre Suburbia has Judy Reeves, Sam Martinez, and Michele Richey to direct this epic work.  Judy is a longtime activist in the LGBTQIA+ community, and has directed shows at the venue for decades.  Sam is an old pro who knows how to stage small town America convincingly.  Michele has a good eye for character beats and the flow of a show.  The three of them make extremely wise choices.  They have a cast of eleven people who all capture the essence of this play with aplomb.  They have a mix of genders, races, and experience levels to work with.  The result is what community theater is all about, a perfect blend of people coming together for a common cause.  You can feel their love of the piece and each other radiating from the stage.  This is why people adore and do community theater.  

There are quite a few standouts in the cast.  The show starts with the striking voice of transgender actor Soren Bergegan.  During the early scenes he is a de facto narrator, standing there a slender blonde man that reminded me eerily of Shepard himself.  Soren commands the stage as a Catholic priest, and later as one of the convicted killers of Matt.  It’s a full circle moment to see him here, and his presence in the show is strong.   Reijon Liboon is also quite adept as a string of characters including a Laramie college student and a bar owner.  He subtly shifts into each character without ever straining or going overboard, and it is marvelous to watch.  

Marjory (Mojo) Johnson lightens up the mood anytime she appears onstage.  She has a natural comedic timing that lends itself to whether she is playing professor or patrol woman.  Chip Davison has an easy-going Northeast demeanor that provides contrast for his characters.  Christopher Krause has a striking presence that also lends itself well to this type of play where people morph into many.  Megan Nix is a likable and loveable actress even when she descends down some dark paths in her turns.  Caryn Fulda and Dixie Cooper are great fun anytime they appear, Dixie often coyly alternating a cigarette with an oxygen mask. Mark Maccato also does a fine job of figuring out how to define each character with his own physicality unique to each.  Chris Cancila and Loudjie Vanessa Zetrenne round out an excellent troop who all have their own unique looks and voices.  They have obviously been coached and directed very well, as I couldn’t always tell who was a veteran and who was new to the stage.   And that’s the real achievement here.  The playing field has been leveled, and it is the ensemble that shines rather than one or two of the entire cast.  

The set is a sparse desert landscape, but there is a nice projection system that gives us a sense of where we are or who we are talking about.  Lighting is simple as well as costuming, and it seems the tech department knows what this show is about.  It’s people, and not really props or effects that star in THE LARAMIE PROJECT.  

It astonishes me that only one theater would stand-up in Houston, and mark the important anniversary of an incident that shaped the world for the LGBTQIA+ community.  THE LARAMIE PROJECT still has so much to say to the world even a quarter of a century later.  It is critical of America, but it also has a lot of love for what the country could become.  It’s long, it’s somber, but it is an amazingly poignant and moving experience.  You will walk out knowing so much more about Matthew, small towns, and why some people are still so very afraid of what is happening around them.  These are brave actors, and they do a remarkable job of bringing this all back to life.  Thank you Theatre Suburbia and the cast and crew of this epic production.  

THE LARAMIE PROJECT runs through October 14th with shows on Fridays, Saturdays, and some Sundays.  Theatre Suburbia can be reached at (713) 682-3525 or online through www.theatresuburbia.org .  The playhouse is located at 5201 Mitchelldale, Suite A3 which is easily accessible from 290 or Hempstead Highway.  


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