note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Beverly Creasey
The irony is not lost on Moises Kaufman, author of "The Laramie Project" that Matthew Shepard was murdered in "the Equality State". Kaufman and members of his Tectonics Theater Project travelled to Wyoming the year following the much publicized murder of this gay man to conduct interviews with everyone from bartenders to high plains drifters.
The resulting interviews, a la Anna Devere Smith, make up a documentary theater piece which took New York by storm. Now Bostonians can witness "The Laramie Project" thanks to a stunning production by Boston Theatre Works. Directors Nancy Curran Willis and Jason Southerland highlight the cameo vignettes with geographic slides (by John Sachs) on a sleek highway by Ruth Neeman (complete with vanishing-point) --- but it is the ensemble acting which takes your breath away.
"The Laramie Project" is an actor's dream. Each performer gets to play multiple characters in instant transformations. With subtle costume changes (by Molly Trainer) on stage, a cowboy limousine driver becomes a polite investigator and by donning a scarf a teacher becomes Muslim woman . The Boston cast is simply perfection, from Kent French's cowboy to Sheila Stasack's Muslim student.
Forrest Walker makes the remarkable change from an adorably naive acting student to the despairing, grieving father of this dead University of Wyoming student. The show is surprisingly sweet (Laura Napoli dazzles as an angel with "big ass wings") and strikingly moving (James Barton, the hospital spokesman, breaks down during a t-v interview), but the one thing "The Laramie Project" isn't is shocking (which I expected since the crime was so heinous). The play is a meticulously thoughtful dissection of a crime, more cerebral than visceral. My friend who declined my invitation to the play, because it might be too painful, could have gone.
Tom Lawlor, Holly Vanasse, Anne Gottlieb et al flesh out the Techtonic Theatre script with astounding clarity and skill. You won't find better ensemble work anywhere.