Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Laramie Project"

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entire contents Copyright 2009 Tony Annicone

"The Laramie Project"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Players' fourth show of their 100th season is "The Laramie Project" a play by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the reaction to the October, 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The murder is widely considered to be a hate crime motivated by homophobia. The Tectonic Theater Project sent ten members to Laramie to collect 200 interviews with the inhabitants of the town, company members' own journal entries and published news reports. It is divided into two acts with 16 performers portraying 67 characters in a series of short scenes. Director Tom DiMaggio uses these 16 performers in multiple roles to present a very moving and dramatic show (with some comic moments) about the diversity of people not only in this town but across the country, too. He tells this story with both excellent direction and acting from start to finish, making it one of the must see shows of this season about the reality of human life in contemporary America.

The set consists of a couple of white platforms with a few stairs and nine stools. The most important part of the set is the buck fence across the back of the stage which is where Matthew died. It also symbolizes the division of this town where it divides hate from love. The world needs to be seen in its fullness and beauty, not in its ugliness and dreariness. Tom and his cast make a bold statement for the audience to wake up and try to make this a better world from the lessons of the past. As Tom says in his director's notes:"It has been 10 years since the incidents portrayed in this occurred. Matthew Shepard's murder changed the lives of many people, not only the people of Laramie, but also the entire world. Unfortunately, feelings of hate and discrimination still exist in a society that, by now, should have opened its arms to all people, regardless of who and what they are. Hopefully, the many productions of this play will continue to open eyes that have been closed for far too long." Their presentation is theatre at its best. The lighting by Ruth Fagan is an important part of the show, lighting the areas where the actors are speaking while the set design is by Tom.

The show opens with the song, "Neon Moon" which is where Matthew died under the stars of the sky all alone on that buck fence which tells of all the broken dreams.The 16 member cast bring these roles to life wonderfully whether they are spouting hateful diatribes about being gay, or compassionate understanding. Since there are too many characters to list in this review, I will instead look at some of the parts the actors played in this performance where they all do a topnotch job with their enormous amount of dialogue. Ron Mutton is hilarious at first as the limo driver, Doc who drove Matthew to the bar where he met his attackers. Ron has some colorful language as this character but in the second act he makes you cry when he says Matt died under the twinkling stars and he also plays the "faggot" hating Jack Phelps who demonstrates at Matt's funeral. Jack O'Keefe as Dennis Shepard, delivers the goods when he gives one of the murderers a life sentence instead of the death penalty, gives the show its most dramatic punch with his perfect delivery. His son is his hero when he died on Oct. 12 and that Aaron has Matt to thank for his life, hoping he will regret his crime. Lucia Gill Case is wonderful as Reggie, the cop who might have contracted HIV from Matt after she finds him beaten and bloody on the fence. Veteran actress Carole Battaglia plays her mother, Marge delivering a few laughs and some heartfelt moments with her daughter. Joan Dillenback plays the ER doctor who treated Matt and Sandy Remington is the President of Wyoming University who delivers the news that Matt has died to the media. Tara S. Mudrak, a little spitfire, plays Romaine, a lesbian who is one of Matt's best friends. Sue Staniunas is the theatre teacher at Wyoming University while Laura Coughlin is Tiffany, a glamorous local TV reporter. Cynthia Glinick is the strict judge and a straight-laced minister while Marcia Layden returns to the stage as Allison, a chatty friend of Marge, an angry policeman's wife and the bubbly Debbie, the waitress who was named after Debbie Reynolds. Jeff Sullivan handles the role of a 52 year old gay man who is in tears seeing the parade for Matt grow by 5 times as it turns down the other side of his street while Kevin Broccoli, Jr. plays Moises Kaufman as well as the bartender who waited on Matt the night he was attacked. Zachary Bennet plays one of the murderers, Russell Henderson as well as the bar owner and Christopher Ferreira plays the tattooed killer, Aaron McKinney as well as the God believing Aaron who found Matthew on the fence while riding his bicycle. This Aaron feels that the hand of God lead him to where Matt was. High School sophomore Sam Hood plays Jedadiah who shows how his parents feel that performing in "Angels in America" is a sin because he is playing a gay man but the Shakespeare tragedy that they went to see him in where he murders a woman, her children and numerous other people is acceptable which shows their bias. So for a show that packs a powerful punch while teaching about tolerance and understanding, be sure to catch this superb rendition of "The Laramie Project" at Barker Playhouse. To become a member of this theatre club be sure to give Lydia a call.

"The Laramie Project" (14 - 22 March)
Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROBVIDENCE RI
1 (401) 273-0590

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide