The Laramie Project is a verbatim, documentary style play from the perspective of a real theatre troupe (the Tectonic Theater Project). In 1998, the theatre makers from Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, Wyoming to conduct interviews with the town’s folk about the brutal hate bashing of a young gay man, Matthew Shepard, who was kidnapped, severely beaten, tied up to a cattle fence on the outskirts of Laramie and left to die.
The structure of the play is a series of interviews interspersed with flashback vignettes of significant moments along the way. This allowed the audience to be privy to a menagerie of varying opinions from the town folk and the various influential religious sectors. In fact, a different side to the same coin was flipped for every single citizen of that town. I really enjoyed the freshness of the structure, although the 3-act format does indicate that this is a long play. I couldn’t help thinking that with some prudent editing, it could at least be a shorter second act as it did seem to be a few scenes too long. Not the fault of the director as the content demands a more somber, reflective atmosphere so you couldn’t really put any pace on it.
The cast were extraordinary, with all members taking on several roles, including members of the theatre troupe, the various town folk, religious leaders, law enforcement, and media. Aaron Bernard was versatile in his thirteen different roles. I especially liked his cab driver and bar man personas, which provided the play with lighter comic moments and a change of pace. Elizabeth Best also showed an impressive dynamic range of characters – twelve in all. All were very different and all enjoyable to watch. I also enjoyed Arianna Safi’s naturalistic and underplayed style. She has a lovely warmness about her that you instantly like. In fact, all the actors (including Daren King, Chris Vaag, Nikki McCrea, Lucy Moxon, and Tom Yaxley), did a remarkable job. With the aid of a simple scarf, or a hat, voice characterisation, or even a change of accent, the actors consistently transformed themselves at a moments notice.
The NASH Theatre did well in choosing a great contemporary piece that also fits nicely into that small stage area. The simple seating and stage plot were effective and all that was needed to tell the story. The multi-media projected images added emotional potency to the production, by showing the location where that particular scene actually took place.
The Laramie Project is certainly the best production I have seen at the NASH yet, and a relevant socio-political play, that focuses on important human rights issues. This is a play with a conscience and a message that should be heard.