Article Title:The Laramie Project at Waikato Uni
Author or Credit:John Curry
Published on:5th June 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1285
Text:Review: The Laramie Project University of Waikato Academy A theatre group travels to Laramie, a city in Wyoming. They interview the people there about the murder of a young gay man. These interviews the group turn into a play, The Laramie Project, which has just ended a brief run at the University of Waikato Academy theatre. This was the New Zealand premiere of a work that has become one of the most performed plays in the USA today. And no wonder. It's a thoughtful, unsensational piece, which tries to include all points of view, even those that are most unpleasant to hear. There is a determination not to sentimentalise the situation - for example, the victim's mother makes only one appearence - and also a determination not to caricature the people of Laramie - no 'rednecks' here, only folks who all seem to know one another or know someone else who does. It reminded me of Thornton Wilder's famous American play Our Town. It has the same minimal staging and at one point there is a funeral scene complete with umbrellas just as there is in Our Town. The staging here consisted of high-backed, rough wooden chairs, which doubled as pulpits and bars and when turned on their sides made up the infamous fence where Matthew Shepard was left to die. He survived eighteen hours before he was discovered. Hospitalised, he survived for a further six days. And all one priest could say was he hoped the boy had time to think about his 'lifestyle' before he lost consciousness. This largely student production was the result of a twelve week seminar and it showed in the assuredness with which the actors took the stage and engaged each other in a smooth piece of ensemble playing. With effective grouping, some costume changes (and Fred Phelps' cowboy hat), they had no trouble holding the nearly full house's rapt attention. There was the occasional leavening of humour (you get to learn what SOL means), but no over-emotional exploitation of the subject matter. The doctor breaking down as he delivered the news of Matthew's death, the fifty two year-old gay watching the homecoming parade turn into a march in support of Matthew, Fred Phelps' gang of placard-waving hateful 'Christians' confronted by a bunch of 'angels', the candlelight vigil, these were but a few of the many visually memorable moments of high emotion. Director Gaye Poole and her students put on a thrilling piece of theatre - not thrilling in a high speed car chase way, or clever detective catches Hannibal Lecter way, no, thrilling in that they chose to do this highly contentious piece, thrilling that they did it successfully; the climax could hardly be called thrilling in a traditional way. Thrilling maybe if you hold extreme views on the need for non-violent action in such circumstances. I suspect most of the audience were confused and sad and probably wanting the victim's mother to give his killers the death penalty; certainly there were audible reactions from the audience when she refused to give the death penalty - were they showing their disapproval? Maybe. Though whether or not it's a play might be debatable. Most of it is delivered straight to the audience with very few of what you would call 'scenes' where people talk to one another as though the audience were not present. Overall, there was a feeling of people making an attempt to face a situation and tell the truth about it. Each in their own way, of course. John Curry - 5th June 2006    
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