The Laramie Project

Wesley Church Old Hall, 75 Taranaki St, Wellington

04/07/2011 - 07/07/2011

Production Details

“A towering theatrical accomplishment.” San Francisco Times.

LONG CLOUD YOUTH THEATRE performs a unique production of this masterpiece in an old church hall, right in the centre of Wellington.

In October 1998 a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming (United Sates) was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die, tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming. His bloody, bruised and battered body was not discovered until the next day, and he died several days later in an area hospital. His name was Matthew Shepard, and he was the victim of this assault because he was gay.

Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater 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. Some people interviewed were directly connected to the case, and others were citizens of Laramie, and the breadth of their reactions to the crime is fascinating.

Kaufman and Tectonic Theater members have constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience from these interviews and their own experiences.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT is a breathtaking theatrical collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT is Willem Wassenaar’s final piece as the Artistic Director of Long Cloud Youth Theatre, before moving overseas.

Wesley Church Old Hall, 75 Taranaki St  
Performances: Mon 4-Thu 7 July 2011
All performances @ 7.30pm

Tickets: $14/$18
Bookings: PHONE 04 238 6225 / EMAIL  

Cassandra Tse Sherry Aanenson, Romaine Patterson, Baptist's Wife, Cal Rerucha
Ella Gilbert Eileen Engen, Judge, April Silva, Doug Laws, Reggie Fluty
Ella Hope Higginson Barbara Pitts, Marge Murray, Reporter, Judy Shepard, Baptist Minister
George Ritchie Matt Galloway, Conrad Miller, Geringer, Rob DeBree
Kieran Charnock Greg Pierotti, Bill McKinney, Mormon Home Teacher, Shannon, Sgt. Hing
Lily della Porta Stephen Belber, Rulan Stacey, Murdock Cooper, Anonymous, Trish Steger, Foreperson
Mae Grant Amanda Gronich, Sherry Johnson, Kirstin Price, Harry Woods, Philip Dubois, Bailiff
Nino Raphael Russell Henderson
Olivia Mahood Fr. Roger Schmit, Shadow, Waitress Debbie, Rev. Fred Phelps
Oscar Shaw Narrator
Patrick Carroll Aaron McKinney
Patrick Hunn Jonas Slonaker, John Peacock, Andrew Gomez, Steven Mead Johnson
Pippa Drakeford Matt Mickelson, Tiffany Edwards, Rebecca Hilliker, Jen, Email Writer
Sophia Ritchie Alison Mears, Lucy Thompson, Kerry Drake, Zackie Salmon, Dr. Cantway
Ursula Robinson Moises Kaufman, Doc O'Connor, Aaron Kreifels, Priest
Vicky Struthers Zubaida Ula, Leigh Fondakowski, Catherine Conolly
Will Robertson Phil Labrie, Jedadiah Schultz, Jeffrey Lockwood, Dennis Shepard, Andy Paris, Gil Engen  

Consistent ensemble work makes for great theatre

Review by Hayden Frost 07th Jul 2011

It should be fairly well known by now that Long Cloud Youth Theatre, under the direction of Willem Wassenaar, is not in the habit of shying away from challenges or difficult projects. Their production of The Laramie Project, jointly directed by Wassenaar and Daniel Williams (and tutored by Sophie Roberts and Kate McGill) is no exception.

Three hours in length and drawn from interviews with a cross-section of residents in Laramie, Wyoming after a brutal murder, the play demands much from its cast but can, in the right hands, be a work of great beauty. 

Staged in the old hall at Wesley Methodist Church, the audience are seated in a large rectangle, lining all four sides of the room. A number of chairs are reserved for use by the cast, marked out by tape in the shape of a cross. Wassenaar and Williams make use of the entire space, placing their actors on stage, in chairs, behind chairs, and in and out of various doors in an epic feat of choreography that nonetheless flows smoothly and never appears to detract from the action, or clutter the space.

Given the nature of the staging, it is inevitable that the actors will always be facing away from a section of the audience, a problem exacerbated by the terrible acoustics of the location. However, the actors do an admirable job of projecting their lines clearly and, despite the occasional need to strain to hear, surprisingly little dialogue is lost in the echo. The directors also eschew any lighting or sound not already extant at the location, leaving a stark and open performance space and placing the weight of the play solely on the shoulders of their cast.

The first act is the least successful. The performances appear too broad, the comedy slightly forced, and there is a general unevenness in tone and pace. Entertaining enough, but it does not bode well for what is to come. Then, as the play begins to confront the unseen event – the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard that silently underlies every line of dialogue – the whole thing shifts. Sudden contrasts appear within characters as well as between them, the tone becomes more consistent, and the reasoning behind previous choices becomes plainly visible. It takes a while, but once the production shifts into gear it only goes from strength to strength. 

The seventeen-strong ensemble cast, most of them playing multiple roles, are uniformly excellent. What initially looks like over-playing is soon revealed as a deliberate stylisation, helping actors to clearly define their separate characters and distinguishing between any that may otherwise appear too similar. The switches between characters are handled cleanly and skilfully.

While the American accents are occasionally shaky, the stylised nature of the performances prevents any alienation from occurring when a few distinctly Kiwi syllables slip through. The cast is also acutely aware of how the emotional moments need to be played, pacing themselves carefully and never allowing self-indulgence when the opportunity appears.

The entire ensemble succeeds in one of the most crucial elements of the text: granting each character’s emotions the respect they demand, regardless of the views or opinions that character espouses. It is the most consistent work I have seen from an ensemble in a long time.

The greatest problem with the text itself is the way in which its authors insert themselves into the material as a framing device. This can (depending on how charitable you feel) appear anything from wholly redundant to unbearably sycophantic. Thankfully, having the actors play multiple roles allows them to mostly fade into the background. When those characters do force themselves to the fore, they are portrayed with a genuine warmth that diminishes the sense of intrusion they demonstrate on the page.

Ultimately, the greatest achievement made by the company lies in their portrayal of Matthew Shepard. The storm of attention surrounding his murder, the various forms of media invoked to examine it, and the eventual legislation pushed through in its wake all serve, despite their intentions, to diminish him to a name. A symbol. A cipher. The ensemble, through their performances, sketch out an image of a human being. A man who lived and died. It is a remarkable achievement. And one that firmly establishes this production as great theatre. 

(Disclosure: Hayden Frost is a former member of Long Cloud Youth Theatre.)
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