Opening this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. is the Theater Department’s production of “The Laramie Project,” directed by adjunct theater faculty member, Jonathan Albert. Originally written in 2000 by playwright, Moisés Kaufman, and his theater company, the award-winning Tectonic Theater Project.
“The Laramie Project” centers around the reactions to the real-life 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, in Laramie, Wyoming. The incident was later declared a hate crime and opened the conversation to the lack of hate crime laws in Wyoming and across the United States.
“The Laramie Project” addresses the societal issues surrounding Shepard’s murder, and follows the commentary and reactions of over 60 characters, portrayed by actors, James Basuk ’17, Victoria Carter ’19, Lauren Daugherty ’18, Michael Doherty ’18, Angel Flores ’20, Abigail-Mary Lehner ’18, Matthew Mintz ’18, Alyssa Silbey ’20 and Emma Youmans ’20.
The play is composed of hundreds of interviews and news reports circulating through the media in response to Shepard’s case. The interviews with Laramie residents are conducted by the Tectonic Theater Company members. Opening the show were the “theater members” delivering speedy introductions of the many interviewees, including University student Jedadiah Schultz (Basuk), matronly Marge Murray (Victoria Carter) and police officer Reggie Fluty (Lehner).
“The Laramie Project” is an intricate web of short scenes that eventually weave together to create a comprehensive narrative depicting the impact Shepard’s death had on Laramie and the media whiplash that followed. Interviewees include characters from all ages and walks of life; from fire and brimstone reverends to news reporters and University students.
With 60 different voices and about 12 Tectonic company members serving as the play’s “narrators,” it would have been easy to get this massive web of scenes and voices tangled into one incomprehensible mess, but all the actors managed to balance their portrayals of each character and keep the story moving in one direction.
Beginning Act I was Basuk, who introduces the audience to the premise behind “The Laramie Project.” Taking the narrative away is Tectonic member, Greg Pierotti, portrayed by Flores. Along with his cast members, Flores does a fantastic job transitioning from narrator to the serious Sergeant Hing to openly gay Jonas Slonaker.
With each character transition, Flores and the cast manage to keep the audience on board, as every individual character is attacked with the same energy and detail. Carter begins the play as the town’s elderly motherly figure, Marge Murray.
From the sweet, Wyoming accent to body language, Carter embodies her character to its full extent, despite switching to Tectonic member, Amanda Gronich a scene later.
Written with such directness and being rather fast paced, in addition to portraying multiple characters, the actors were also tasked with delivering full-fledged performances of each character’s story within a few short, consecutive scenes, before moving on to a new character.
While it’s one challenge to juggle multiple roles, the actors also had to get the audience invested in their story, literally within minutes. And yet, with grace, each actor balanced multiple wardrobe changes, intricate blocking, cues and character transitions with an authenticity that was truly impressive.
Perfectly mimicking the awkwardness and anxiety that surrounds the medium of face-to-face interviews, each actor gave strong, organic performances. In moments of silence, the actors played every pause in character, using this “downtime” to react rather than relax. Basuk delivered a wonderfully organic portrayal of every character, approaching each role with different mannerisms.
Perhaps one of the most powerful scenes acting–wise was the interrogation scene between detective sergeant, Robert DeBree, portrayed by Mintz, and one of the perpetrators of the hate crime, Aaron McKinney. Mintz was captivating in his interrogation of McKinney, stealing the audience’s attention with every inquiry.
Basuk kept the audience’s attention, attacking each line and pause with such seething ferocity it emanated a powerful tension that enveloped the room. Another notable scene, delivered soliloquy-style by Mintz, was father of the victim Dennis Shepard’s court statement at McKinney’s trial. Mintz carried the scene with strong emotion in every line and break.
Stringing the entire production together was the set design and lighting, stage direction and wardrobe. Smart choices were made regarding wardrobe and blocking. To keep up with the play’s fast pace and momentum as well as character and scene transitions, costumes were stripped to the bare minimum.
Apart from a couple full- bodied costume changes, actors used props and simple accessories to represent each individual character. The wardrobe decisions were efficient and effective in portraying each role to its fullest extent.
Simplistically orchestrated sound, lighting and set design, along with well-choreographed blocking also helped portray the serious mood and spirit of the entire production, helping to report the truth.
“The Laramie Project,” will be showing Thursday, Feb. 2 to Sunday Feb. 5 in Yulman Theater, Studio A. General admission is $10 or $7 for seniors or with a Union ID.