The Laramie Project – Ten Years Later – Higher Ground – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was brutally bashed and left to die just outside his home town of Laramie, Wyoming. In 2008, The Tectonic Theatre Project returned to Laramie to see what had changed in ten years. A feature of this play is the depth to which they did return and the efforts they went to in order to expose thoughts, themes and tensions that existed over the events of 1998, which had put this small community on the map, obviously in ways not desired.

As such it is a fascinating tale of how people react or often don’t react to such events, how some take the issue on as a cause celebre, how others don’t see it being about them and how those often closest involved seek to revise the past to suit a preferred future. If one struggles to relate to such a tale, consider our own Snowtown murders.

Had the play just kept on the events, the ‘hate crime’ and rather not strayed onto issues of same sex marriage and same partner pensions it would have been yet stronger for it, but no doubt that view will not be universally accepted. The opening premise, about what had changed, somewhat begs the question ‘what should have changed’ and in the end one wonders whether anything had changed in Laramie that didn’t also shift in the US or the western world anyway. But all that is for delicious red wine debate after.

But more attention needs to be given to the performance. As an audience we are greeted with nine actors spread out on chairs across the stage. Each is to convey the emotions of a variety of characters and straddle American accents with their own. In the nine, we have probably the full crop of Adelaide’s most talented young actors going at it to make their particular marks on the audience without competing for personal acclaim.

Holding this together is director Charles Sanders who may in The Laramie Project consider this his coming of age in that role. We have seen Sanders excel in solo shows but this was a master work, commanding the magnificent nine, covering nearly 50 characters across a large space with the most minimal of props. Yet, we knew clearly who they all were and where they were, particularly the stage setting for the questioning of the two murderers made it all seem quite harrowing and claustrophobic. In all of this, Christian Donoghue’s lighting must be noted for being exquisite.

To choose or highlight particular performers is perhaps unfair as each was called on and delivered important monologues and all possessed perfect timing. But Josh Battersby’s Jonas Slonaker (Shepard friend), Eddie Morrison’s Russell Henderson (murderer) and Tamara Lee’s Judy Shepard (Matthew’s mother) have stuck in this reviewer’s mind. But, as I say, this list could happy extend out.

We talk a lot of what good things there are in our local theatre but struggle to sometimes locate them. This, ladies and gentlemen, is it – our best on and off stage performers of the next generation are all here at Higher Ground til Oct 14th. Don’t say you weren’t told.

Kryztoff Rating  4.5K

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