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Theatre review: The Laramie Project 
22nd-Sep-2010 10:44 pm
Following the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, Tectonic Theatre Project actors went to the town and interviewed its residents over the following year and during the ensuing murder trials, and Moisés Kaufman's play (although four other writers and no less than seven dramaturgs are also credited) The Laramie Project was the result. The eight actors in this revival have to play on two levels therefore - playing the original actors who helped write and originally perform the play, and then each of them has a number of Laramie residents to play as well. Most of the performers are very good, although the articles of clothing (scarves, jackets etc) that signify who they're playing at any given time are helpful, as they tend not to go for huge differentiations in the various performances (but to be honest I'd rather that that arch caricaturing.) No designer is credited, the set being merely chairs and places to store costumes, but I did like the macabre touch of three coat hangers on poles that bring crucifiction to mind, echoing more or less how Shepard died.

Joseph C. Walsh's production is very simple, which works but for a play running at nearly three hours (including two intervals, a decision I didn't see the need for) is stretched a bit, leaving me wishing for a bit more variety of pace. Still, the horrific story is compelling and Kaufman & co were wise to focus on the overall reaction rather that Shepard himself - it being so soon after his death, what we do hear about him tends to sanctify him, which is understandable but wouldn't really lead to a balanced piece of documentary theatre. Instead there's some depressingly predictable responses as well as some surprising ones - the local Catholic priest comes across as remarkably tolerant (the Mormons less so; as well as their continuing homophobic remarks, their reaction to one of the killers turning out to be a member of their church is to excommunicate him immediately, conventiently making his actions nothing to do with them.)

As I say the cast are pretty strong, particularly Francis Adams, Katherine Moraz, Meghann Marty (who looks uncannily like a cross between Eliza Dushku and Miranda Raison,) Dale Page and Ben Carpenter (the latter two also happen to be pretty cute, in very different ways) but while everyone's best when playing the locals, when they're playing the actors Walsh has them rather simperingly respond to what's happening elsewhere on stage, which was irritating. It remains a powerful piece, well-performed (at the end I could hear desperate sobbing from the row behind me) but given how many writers and creatives put together the original piece, I couldn't help thinking it could have been more theatrical.

The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman and Tectonic Theatre Project is booking until the 25th of September at Greenwich Theatre.
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