Posts Tagged ‘wyoming

25
Mar
12

the laramie project

The Laramie Project

Centenary Theatre Group

Nash Theatre

10th  – 31st March 2012

Reviewed by Meredith McLean


The irony of this production of The Laramie Project being held in a church hall made me chuckle quietly to myself. An irony you will understand if you see the play. It was a short-lived stint of laughter though. Knowing The Laramie Project from my days of my nose in a book I was well aware that despite there being funny characters this is not a comedy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you left the Nash Theatre feeling heavy hearted too.

The Laramie Project is a very unique piece of non-fiction made for stage. Moises Kaufman and his members of the Tectonic Theatre Project collaborated in the November of 1998 to bring us what is called verbatim theatre. Along the rural buck fenced landscapes of Wyoming nine members gathered in Laramie four weeks after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard. A young 21 year old university student who was gay and punished for it gravely. More disturbingly two boys had committed the crime, the same age as Matthew. Just a couple of kids like him. The play, under Moises Kaufman’s terms, is never made up of traditional scenes. Only what Kaufman calls moments, snippets of interviews with real people. Their words, the true words, being reverberated on a stage whether it be far off in New York or here in Brisbane.

The immensity of dedication to a play like this isn’t trivial. Each of the eight cast members at the Nash Theatre had at least eight roles each, some many more. There are no stagehands in this production either. Each actor must change scenery, costume and attitude unseen in the shadows. Presenting himself or herself to the spotlight one by one as a changed person. The costumes as well as setting are of a minimalist nature. This enables the actors to depend solely on their craft to portray a different person each time. With the change of a hat or maybe a table moved slightly forward it is up to the cast to convince us of who they are. In their voice, their movement and their stage presence the audience puts all of its trust in them.

This production is political. It can be solemn. At times the people will make you laugh but then you’ll understand the vastness of truth, sadness and love held by these people for the town. Whether they are Matthew Shepard’s friends or Doc the kooky, local limo driver all of them embody a strange loss for Laramie. That’s why when seeing this production the cast hold your focus intensely. So dramatically that a distraction doesn’t just catch your eye. It breaks the gravity of your attention all together. The choice to use multimedia as a means to communicate a scene or emotion was not the right choice for this play. Understandably, the black screen depicting the title of each “moment” was effective. It gave a sense of time and place. However, the pictures of a bible while talking to a priest or a snowy street in Laramie while talking of the weather were unnecessary. Watching the stage I could tell these eight talented people could easily portray the setting and the emotion needed through their performance alone. The screen constantly changing to pictures found on the Internet kept dragging my attention away from them.

Each of the cast embraced the idea of taking on a menagerie of characters embodied in one person. But three men stood out for me. They made me momentarily forget they were still the same person, then like flicking a switch they’d change and I’d be excited to see who they had become next.

Aaron Bernard first caught my attention with the slow lilting observations of Doc the limousine driver. When he looked out to the crowd and said “The last thing on earth he saw was the sparkling lights.” sadness made me shift uncomfortably in my seat. Then the jumping, twitching flurry of words from Matt Galloway the bartender made me laugh and nod along with the rhythmic storytelling Aaron portrayed.

Daren King likewise blended in and out of a range of characters with ease. There’s a certainty in his movement and voice. His confidence to intentionally look lost is what made characters like the Unitarian minister, the doctor and even one of the perpetrators seem so real.

Tom Yaxley was possibly the luckiest to experience some of the most pivotal characters in this production. I couldn’t help but secretly giggle at his portrayal of the director and chief writer, Moises Kaufman. The accent and poise was like something taken out of an interview and that’s exactly what is intended of the actor. But my favourite of all the roles Yaxley takes on is Father Roger Schmit. It’s odd to think these characters are all people taken from factual interviews and yet a real person still feels like a plot device. His powerful words, real quotes from the catholic minister, hit home and Tom Yaxley delivered them rightly so.

Dan Lane took the helm as the director of this production. His involvement with the Nash Theatre over the last two years equates to his first time directing for this particular group. His mindset is clear when you watch the actors on stage. Above all it is an actor driven performance and his dedication to that goal is apparent in the play. In the final closing of the production that last image on the stage is an excellent summary. Not only of the play but also of Dan Lane’s capacity for the stage.

This production will not lie to you. It will never promise you something it can’t deliver. Everything said and done is a refraction of the truth that occurred fourteen years ago. If you like to search for the truth or just enjoy theatre that aims to express meaningfulness The Laramie Project at the Nash Theatre is a show you need to see.


21
Mar
12

The Laramie Project – thoughts

Thoughts from Elizabeth Best, Cast Member of The Laramie Project at Nash Theatre, New Farm.

I still vividly remember how I felt the first time I saw The Laramie Project and heard Matthew Shepard’s tragic story for the first time about 8 years ago. Matt was only 21 years old where he was savagely beaten and left for dead tied to a fence in small town Laramie, Wyoming, in the USA. He suffered this horrendous attack at the hands of two other kids, and he was singled out because he was gay. I remember feeling shocked that anyone could do something like that to another human being, feeling sad that a young life was cut short and feeling hopeful that pieces of theatre like this could bring about change.


So naturally, when I heard Nash was doing Laramie, I jumped at the chance to actually be IN the show that had so captivated me all those years ago.

What is most fascinating to me is that the show is verbatim theatre, which means that the words spoken on stage are taken directly from interviews, court transcripts and other found texts; Laramie Project isn’t just based on a true story, it IS the true story – every single word of it. Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard. They conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. They have constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience from these interviews and their own experiences.

Laramie is a show that takes a lot of work: eight actors share more than 60 roles, ranging from local bartenders, to judges, to the perpetrators themselves. My 12 characters include a Wyoming waitress, a lesbian university professor, the girlfriend of the perpetrator and the wife of a homophobic baptist minister. With this in mind, research was a huge part of my process in this show; I needed to know who these people were, where they came from, and where they ended up once the play finished. Then with that information, I needed to figure out how the heck I was going to differentiate between them all! Luckily, some of the characters came from different regions which meant different accents, then the personalities of the characters lent themselves to different voice timbres and, of course, the physicality that comes from the whopping age differences: my youngest character is 21 and my oldest is in her late 50s. And with so many characters, it’s so easy to slip into caricature, which is something I wanted to avoid. That is where the research helped and knowing that these people were real and that their stories continued on after the final words of the play.

The Laramie Project is a show that conveys an important message and shows us the human condition in its many forms; it shows frailty, weakness, hatred, brutality, caring, compassion and most of all, hope. The fact that it is a true story  – Matthew’s story – instilled in me a need to do these people and this story justice and, as one of the Laramie characters Father Roger Schmidt says, to “say it right. You need to do your best to say it correct.”

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