The Laramie Project is not a play put on lightly. With themes that still raise controversy in our society today, full verbatim text and an immense number of characters, it takes skill to produce this piece of theatre in a way that will entertain as well as educate. Brisbane's Nash Theatre Company achieved just that with their production of the play shown over the past week, doing a mighty job of wrangling such a work.
The Laramie Project documents the interviews and journals conducted and written by the Tectonic Theatre Group, who in 1998-99 undertook several trips to Laramie, Wyoming, to investigate the hate-sparked murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard. The cast members are expected to play sixty characters made up of members of the Tectonic Theatre Group, a variety of townsfolk, the two accused murderers, an array of judges and lawyers, and even Matthew's father, as they speak at different times in the proceedings of Matthew's death and the trial of his murder. Throughout the show each of the characters faces up to the personal impact of the young man's death, what it means for their town and what the incident has revealed about their natures.
The cast of Nash Theatre Company's production took on this perhaps daunting task with gusto. It was clear that much time and effort had gone into developing each of the individual characters and as a result the audience was able to clearly and quickly differentiate between them. The actors' accents were commendable and the use of gesture fantastic as the cast explored each of the hundreds of tiny moments which make up the moving play. It was clear that the cast had sought to tell each individual's story and reveal the humanity in the words of each of the characters. The true essence of The Laramie Project lies within these stories and the truth to be found in the verbatim text of the script, and the Nash cast and crew did a brilliant job of telling their audience this story without unnecessary embellishment.
The simplicity of the design helped the audience maintain focus in the complex play. Projected images of Laramie poignantly enhanced the stories being told, giving the audience just enough context to picture the mid-sized rail town this story belongs to. Rare sound effects were used to add depth to some scenes; however the show was mostly silent bar the actors' voices. Lighting effects, too, were minimal, the stage often being lit by the switching on and off of the church hall main lighting. While this may have been predetermined by the company's budget, the subtlety and plainness of the design fit the performance perfectly.
Director Dan Lane should be congratulated for finding not only the achingly sad moments of the play, but highlighting the humour to be found in the text as well. While some key points, such as Matthew's father's speech to the accused murderer of his son, left not a dry eye in the room, others had the audience laughing loudly at the everyday absurdity captured in the text. Anchoring the audience with the reliability of these characters and stories, allowed the show to really hit its mark when the darker moments came.
Nash Theatre Company has shown great talent, intelligence and compassion in the production of this show. Moving, thought-provoking and entertaining, they have done a grand job of producing such an important and complex piece of theatre as The Laramie Project.
Nash Theatre Company presents
THE LARAMIE PROJECT
by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project
Director Dan Lane
Venue: Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Road, New Farm
Dates: March 10 – 31, 2012
Times: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays @ 7.30pm
Tickets: $20 / $15 / $12