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The Foundry Players - ARCHIVE
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November 6 - 21, 2004
The Laramie Project

Reviewed November 12
Running time 2:50 - two intermissions

t A Potomac Stages Pick for fine directing and uniformly satisfying performances
Click here to buy the script

In 1998 the members of Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Project of New York traveled to Laramie, Wyoming in search of understanding concerning a hate crime that had become a national sensation. The results of their search were presented on stage in Denver and then in New York and eventually in Laramie itself. It became a made-for-TV movie and has enjoyed professional productions around the country, engaging audiences in the lessons to be learned while, at the same time, providing an engrossing evening of thought provoking theater. Now community theaters are discovering the potential of the play to strike a chord with their audiences. This production shows just how well a highly-motivated, well-directed company can do with this troubling but absorbing material.

Storyline: On a cold, clear night, two men abducted and beat a gay man, Matthew Shepard, leaving him to die tied to a fence on the prairie outside of Laramie. The crime and the community of Laramie drew the attention of the media around the country and around the world and became a cause célèbre among human rights activists and the gay community. The members of the Tectonic Theater Project interviewed over 200 residents of the town, including police, lawyers and witnesses that had been part of the case, and townspeople who attempted to come to grips with the crime and its aftermath. A cast of twenty recreates those interviews.

Director Bob Scott stages this chronicle of a play in a straight forward manner that avoids any excesses of stagecraft which could distract from the story and the performances. He has the stage flanked with about ten televisions displaying the frequently intriguing video design which includes a montage of highway shots to represent that trip from the east coast all the way into Wyoming as well as pictures of the open prairie, key buildings in Laramie and the infamous fence to which Shepard was lashed. But he resists over-using the effect, limiting it to the times and manner specified in the script. He also uses a live television hookup for the public affairs statements from the hospital where Shepard died. But, again, he uses it sparingly and intelligently.

Scott is also to be credited with drawing from his very large cast a uniformity of performance quality unusual in community theater. No one of the twenty cast members either looks self conscious or over-emotes. It helps, of course, that none of the roles is a continuing character that must be developed at great psychological depth. Instead, these are all vignettes drawn from the interviews conducted by Kaufman and his team. Each cast member plays at least two characters and some as many as five or six. Thus, all are called upon to perform rather than to "act," but they all find ways to bring each of their characters to life in the brief moments entrusted to them. If none is a standout of particular note, none is significantly less effective than his or her colleagues. The consistency of the quality of performance must be attributed to the director's attention to detail and the thoroughness of his work.

The play is aptly titled "The Laramie Project" rather than the "Matthew Shepard Case." Kaufman and his project members sought and found answers to what the town felt about the crime and its aftermath, and the play presents those answers in an intensely personal manner. But they apparently didn’t try to probe too deeply into the characters of Shepard or his attackers. The details of their lives - his death and their arrest and trial - are presented almost as background material to set up the portrait of the town’s reaction. What is there is fascinating but what isn’t there is fodder for many post-theater discussions.

Written by Moisés Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theater Project. Directed by Bob Scott. Design: Bob Scott (set) Moe Benesch and Gamble Gilbertson of V! Studios (media) Kelly Cronenberg (costumes) Suzanne Chaudet Maloney (lights), Jimmy Lohr (stage manager). Cast: Brad Barfield, Bob Benn, Ann Farris, Mario Font, Gamble Gilbertson, Wayne Henson, Patricia Jordan, Meredith Knell, Sarah Kwon, Drew Landers, Mark Ludwick, Paul MacWhorter, Barbara Marvin, Terry McKinstry, Silvio Menzano, Randy Moorman, Olin Nettles, Joanne Sincero, Betsy Walter, Camille Watkin.