The Laramie Project

‘The Laramie Project’ was written by the gay Venezuelan playwright and director, Moisés Kaufman. In 1987, at the age of 23, he moved from Caracas to New York. This Romanian, Ukrainian Jew went on to found the Tectonic Theatre Project, based in New York City. Leigh Fondakowski was the head writer of The Laramie Project and a member of the Tectonic Theatre Project.

On October 7, 1998, a young gay man was discovered bound to a fence outside Laramie, Wyoming, savagely beaten and left to die in an act of brutality and hate that shocked the nation. Matthew Shepard’s death became a national symbol of intolerance, but for the people of the town, the event was deeply personal. In the aftermath, The Tectonic Theatre Project went to Laramie and conducted more than 200 interviews with its citizens. From the transcripts, the playwrights constructed an extraordinary chronicle of life in the town after the murder.

In 2004, Kaufman was nominated for a Tony Directing Award for directing his first Broadway play, ‘I Am My Own Wife’ by Doug Wright. Since then, his awards have rolled in.

‘The Laramie Project’ which first performed in 2000, has now gone on to be a modern classic and one of the most produced plays in North America. Kaufman was awarded the National Medal for Arts and Humanities in 2016 by President Barack Obama. Kaufman was the author of many other plays, including ‘Gross Indecency’ and ‘The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde’.

Curtin’s Theatre Arts and the Hayman Theatre Company have a new 2-hour production of this verbatim (a play made up of personal quotes). It has curtain up each evening at 7.00 pm from Tuesday the 25th until Saturday 29th May at the new Hayman Theatre, Building 302, Curtin University, Kent Street, Bentley.

The Scene:                         October 1998 in the farming area of Laramie in south Wyoming.

The Set  Designer:             Stephen Carr has created a pine wood, barn wall with slight gaps between the planks allowing light from behind to filter through. The wall is also used as a screen for the live TV broadcasts.

Set Assistant:                    Julia Pham and the Properties team Kerri-Rose Baker and Hayley Smith have laid out a fine collection of old farm implements and small sheaves of dried grass against the barn wall. There are a dozen wooden chairs and a table that are constantly in use by the cast.

Sound Designer and operator:     was the talented Jonathan Hoey, who had an unchallenging ride on this show. There was a short burst of ‘Valley of Tears’ by Fats Domino with the song’s appropriate words.

Lighting Designer:            Chloe Palliser proved she has a good eye for lighting tones and selecting areas.

Stage Manager, Ella Wakeman and her Deputy Stage Manager, Laura Davenport had no mid-show changes to carry out, but the stage was well organised in advance.

The incident: out in the prairie near Laramie, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old theatre student was tied to a fence post, severely beaten, robbed, tortured and left alone for 18 hours to die. He was rushed to the hospital and put on life support but died five days later. The reason for this brutal crime? Matthew Shepard was a gay with a small build, braces, and was HIV positive. For a year and a half, the citizens of Laramie were interviewed by The Tectonic Theatre Project, and discovered the atrocious, hidden hate-fuelled violence.

The Laramie community whilst praising their town for being gay free, assured visitors that people with such a warped and irreligious nature must travel to the next State for their pleasures. The town is a close-knit community in a beautiful setting. They rely upon the railroad and the fact that they are the only stopping point for road travellers for 200 miles each way.

               In Laramie, a friend of Matthew, a theatre student Jedidiah Schultz (Oliver ‘Ollie’ Charlton) reveals a few secrets. A research interviewer (Samuel Ireland) meets first with Rebecca Hilliker, the head of the theatre department at the University of Wyoming. Rebecca tells the audience of her admiration for Matthew and of the people who knew him. Characters like Romaine Patterson, an openly lesbian woman, describe Matthew’s “mega-watt” smile, while his friend and limousine driver, Doc O’Connor (Travis Koch) would drive Matthew to gay bars in a town an hour away and accepted his homosexuality.

The TV reporter (Hetty Lobegeiger) interviews people as they leave the Court. The judge (Crystal Nguyen) was clear seeing and outspoken. Zubeida considered herself an Islamic feminist and expressed her irritation at the people of Laramie whinging when she chose to start wearing a veil.

Matthew’s father, Dennis (Alex Hutchings) makes a very moving speech at the trial.

All the actors were playing multiple parts, I apologise for not matching these quality actors with their characters. Tiahna McBride, Angus Price, Adam Naylor, Georgia Condon and Elizabeth Offer.

Costume Designer, Angelle Hart and her costumières Poppy Lindsell and Joan Eugenio captured this dark era of America’s history with the appropriate outfits, ranging from Baptist Ministers to hick cowboys.

Director Adam Mitchell with his Assistant Director Ella Randle felt that there was an added responsibility to be true to a person’s intentions when dealing with their exact words, and so they dutifully approached all the actors in the play confirming that they comprehended deep down the feelings required. Tremendous directing and character depiction.

I have seen this important play three times (at least) and I felt the chemistry, pace and delivery of this production was the best yet. However, on leaving the theatre, I again felt as I invariably do with ‘Hanging Rock’, just a touch frustrated by the ending.

A well-presented production by a talented group. Congratulations.