Chicago Theater Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER (Redtwist Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on March 14, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later tells the story of Matthew Shepard and how it affected those involved a decade after his 1998 murder. As with its point of origin The Laramie Project (also running concurrently as staged readings) disparate denizens of this infamous town in Wyoming have been interviewed by members of Moises Kaufman’s “Tectonic Theater.” Yarns and annotations by citizens, police, academics, and Shepard’s opinionated mom Judy have been recorded and now reenacted by an eight-member ensemble at Redtwist Theatre under the direction of Greg Kolack. The most revealing and disturbing interviews in this epilogue are Mathew’s killers, who were not allowed to be interviewed at the time of the first project.

In this minimalist production, Kaufman’s seemingly scientific and simple method of collected hearsay starts with what appears to be nothing but tense debate; ultimately, however, the labyrinth of viewpoints reveals much more than mere deliberation or reporting. Treasures of penetrating insight and change about our culture, media, human nature, and laws are gifted to the audience by examining current mores and updated legislation. Ultimately the piece contains an intended bias that longs for progress towards the betterment of all.

As we watch the interviews, it begins to dawn on us that a consensus of opinion is by no means a unifier or an agreement for change; in fact, it often seems to be a mechanism to front a differing opinion. The piece highlights nervous guilt over gay hatred – perhaps a small step forward, as it also points to an undertone of resentment that homosexuality had to be addressed at all following this unthinkable crime. Robbery, assault and purported dealings of crystal meth are easier topics than gay-bashing for many interviewed, and sadly would seem to justify a better image of the town.

The value of the play is greatest when it reveals the widening gap between the opinions of a small homogeneous group of people and those of a younger generation in the space of only ten years. Also emphasized is the copious time and effort it takes to promote the tiniest of cultural steps; in Laramie, evolution happens at different speeds and in both naive and cognizant ways.

The players are mostly adept as they portray one resident to the next with speedy transitions, creating entirely different personalities so well that it seemed a new actor had entered the play. Matt Babbs, Eleanor Katz, and Gene Cordon were especially successful, with Cordon’s homegrown vocals adding a superb authenticity (vocal coaching by Mary Reynard Liss). The large number of interviews presented makes the piece occasionally hard to follow – had Kolack guided other ensemble members to more crisply delineate role changes, it would have helped us to keep track of who is who.

In keeping with the minimalist direction, Valerie Vanderkolk’s use of simple everyday wardrobe, awash in autumn tones, lent a rustic, western plains texture of sage-covered Wyoming; still, dashes of color might have made it easier to follow character transitions. At times, the wood panels on Andrei Onegin’s set appear as city skylines, straddling the players as if the whole country is learning a new way of thinking. Rachel Spear designed the sound and Christopher Burpee the lights.

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later could use a bit of streamlining in the script and polishing in the production – concurrent voices, stuttered lines and flickering lights created missed opportunities for moments of greater poignancy and transcendence.  Still, the show should be seen for its sheer volume of facts, viewpoints and for its insights that have the potential to help us change for the better.

photos by Kimberly Loughlin

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W Bryn Mawr
Thurs–Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on April 7, 2012
for tickets, call 773-728-7529 or visit Redtwist

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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