Article Title:Review: 'Laramie' - theatre you must, must see
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:5th June 2008 - 11:55 pm
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Story ID:6035
Text:The cast of The Laramie Project In October 1998, gay 21-year old Matthew Shepard died after being tied to a rural Wyoming fence and savagely beaten because he was a homosexual, a 'lifestyle' many in his home town of Laramie didn't agree with. The Shepard case became an international media circus, a tabloid-fest, and a focus for outpourings of liberal American discontent with a society that fosters homophobia and retains laws which belittle attacks on gays and lesbians. Joining the rush to Laramie was a New York theatre group, whose members interviewed townspeople about the murder and the effect it had on them and their town. The result is a staged documentary, heavy on message and irony, yet compelling in its portrayal of everyday lives examined under the microscope of homophobia. Perhaps tonight's largely straight opening night audience didn't sense it, but for the scattering of gay men present there was something chilling about seeing The Laramie Project performed in Ellerslie, Auckland, just blocks from where elderly gay stamp collector Robert Hunt was knifed to death in 2004 because he too was a homosexual. This evening the Ellerslie Theatrical Society did Matthew Shepard, and indirectly Robert Hunt, proud. Eschewing gimmicks and tricky theatrics, director Julia Leathwick gently moves her cast around an almost bare stage, content to let the characters tell the story, their stories. While the pace is a little too even, the frequently stunning performances generally overcome the potentially dangerous mix of pathos, weightiness and length - nearly three hours including one and a half intervals - to produce a wonderful night of pure and vivid theatre. The ensemble cast members confidently portray a dazzling array of townsfolk, giving us insights into their variously noble or unattractive personalities and outlooks. When these actors and their characters click the result, aided and abetted by good writing and direction, is superb. At worst some characters occasionally blur into each other at the hands of cast members less able to conjure up multiple clearly delineated personalities, but this is only occasionally a problem. Highlights, and there are many, include Leand Macadaan's cold killers and swaggering redneck, Lynn Webster's hilarious waitress, worried cop and wise judge, and nearly every portrayal by Carleena Walsh. Best of all is Margaret Bremner's soul-wrenching performance as a young and awkward boy recounting how he came upon the barely living, pulped and broken Shepard... tied up, spread-eagled and alone on the windswept prairie, eighteen hours after his attackers left him for dead. For nearly ten minutes there wasn't a cough, murmur or movement in tonight's audience, and for some tears flowed freely. Matthew Shepard died in hospital two days after the attack and the affair left Laramie forever branded in the public consciousness, like Columbine, Waco, or Aramoana. Or for glbt New Zealanders, Ellerslie or Hagley Park or maybe Onehunga. The Laramie Project lays the fault for Shepard's murder squarely at the feet of his two young killers, but also underscores the environment in which their hatred of 'faggots and dykes' was allowed to take root and fester... a community poisoned, at worst by religious intolerance, and at best by the insidious "we don't agree with homosexuality here" attitude passed on by otherwise decent parents to their impressionable children. The Laramie Project also squares up to the fine line between the death penalty and revenge. As Charles Chauvel MP and others begin to tackle New Zealand's 'gay panic' defence; as Education Minister Chris Carter institutes programmes against schoolyard bullying; and while some political leaders dismiss anti-gay invective as merely a staple of teenage experience, this is a production every MP, community and religious leader in New Zealand should be made to attend. Failing that, it is a production you should - no, you must - see for yourself. The Laramie Project By Moises Kaufman and Members of the Tectonic Theatre Project Director: Julia Leathwick Presented by Ellerslie Theatrical Society 5 - 14 June, 2008 Stables Theatre, Cnr Main Highway   
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