Monday, November 12, 2012

A Night in Laramie

I don't go to the theatre enough (due to money constraints, mostly), so when I do go I feel I have to write something about it. Of course, a lot has inevitably already been written about a show by the time I get to it (hell, by the time it gets to Australia!), but the world has so many identical responses to everyone else, why not a theatre show? Sadly the Mockingbird Theatre production of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project has finished its Melbourne season at Chapel Off Chapel, but my experience seeing it this past Saturday was so nice that I just had to blog something about it.

To be honest, I'm surprised I haven't caught a production of this before. I haven't even seen the star-laden television adaptation (which was cut down from over 2 hours to 90 minutes), but I may have to make an effort to seek it out now. I can't speak for other versions of it, but I was very impressed by this local one give or take some artistic decisions that I found questionable. I don't claim to have any historical context in order to properly review theatre, nor a particularly strong knowledge of what's going on in the stage world at the moment to properly assess it in the same way I would a film, but other reviews appear to have been similarly impressed as I so I'll trust my judgement that this is a fine rendition of the work.

Everybody who has any interest in the material would know that The Laramie Project is about the vicious hate crime against Matthew Shepherd on a deserted stretch of prairie on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, in the 1990s. Presented on a very bare stage - only nondescript wooden chairs and a curtain backdrop projecting the images of a cloud-dusted Wyoming sky - its actors present the recorded testimonials of Laramie residents and the Tectonic Theatre members in simple, unfussed manner. Frequently switching between personalities, introduced ever so briefly by a fellow cast-member, the actors occasionally reflect the posture or ticks of their real world counterparts, but more often than not they simply present their words. American accents are adopted - some broad, some less so - and are thoroughly impressive. I was particularly taken by some of the younger cast, especially Luke McKenzie (up there to the right), Maggie Chretien, and Scott Middleton. McKenzie, it must be said, is surely not too far away from being snapped up by an American agent and turned into star. He has the looks to make it, as well as the ability to portray both brute masculinity and heartfelt tenderness. He's like the high school jock who was also really nice to the unpopular kids. His cheek bones alone deserve an agent, at least as they were here as lit by Douglas Montgomery.

Of course, even if the actors weren't up to task then the material would still be remarkably strong. A definite case for substance over style (any style, really), The Laramie Project is economic in its staging, but rich in emotional rewards. I shed several tears, that's for sure, and one woman in particular two rows behind was openly sobbing quite vocally during the final act. Thankfully two seemingly grumpy old men directly behind me didn't return after the first interval, which calls into question whether they had any idea what they were seeing. However, I could have done without the intrusive use of recongnisable Thomas Newman score (American Beauty! Road to Perdition! The Shawshank Redemption! Erin Brockovich!) that drifted in and out in a distracting fashion. Somebody on the production team must be a big Newman fan for there's no real thematic necessary for any music least of all the work of Newman whose preference for sweeping, swirling strings aims to pull heartstrings that the material was strong enough to achieve on its own. At least they didn't use the music of Brokeback Mountain, I guess!

Still, it was a fabulous show and I'm so glad I was able to attend it before it departed. Where it goes to now, if anywhere, is beyond me, but if it gets shipped around to your part of the country I'd definitely recommend you go see it. Whether you've seen it before or not, it's never too late to be reminded of what it was like (and still is for some, obviously) for some gay men. Even if you're not gay though, it has vital things to say and that, I suppose, is something to be championed. I'd be fascinated to see and hear the original recordings, since the very earnest nature of their words could be even more powerful when being heard from their own mouths. Still, if not that then this will do just fine.

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