‘The Laramie Project’ was powerful.
With their production of ‘The Laramie Project’, independent company Ad Astra offers a bold and forceful rendition of the modern classic. A visceral and sometimes disturbing piece of verbatim theatre, the play is a true ensemble piece, well performed by the role-switching cast.
‘The Laramie Project’, originally written in 2000 by Moises Kaufmann and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, draws on the interviews conducted in Laramie, Wyoming, on the shocking homophobic murder and torture of University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, by two local men in 1998. The play grapples with the impacts of the crime, the social conditions of the town, and homophobia across society. The real-life testimonials, journal entries and news reports that form the work’s basis make it feel immediate and raw, bringing its harrowing events to life. After extensive research on the event, members of the Tectonic Theater Project toured the production throughout the United States, before circling back to Laramie. It has since become widely performed by independent and community theatre companies and studied and performed in schools around the world.
Lighting design by B’Elanna Hill, in Ad Astra’s production, brought out the detailed and intricate set, as well as offering a haunting blue wash during the hymn singing interludes. Various lamps and spotlights highlighted the world, building items throughout the set such as cow horns, country records, and bar materials. The audience remained in partial light throughout, allowing actors to emerge from the audience, bringing the patrons into the events of the play to share the world of Laramie. The back-wall projections offered details of the interviewees and proved an effective tool which drove home the verbatim nature of the script.
Steel and acoustic guitar featured throughout at the skilful hand of Andrew Palmer. This addition further drew the audience into Wyoming, as the country-tinged blues punctuated transitions and key moments.
Director Michelle Carey’s work with the ensemble clearly shines through, as actors rapidly transition through characters while maintaining cohesiveness and focus on the central story of the play. The lighter moments in the script are found by the directorial team of Carey and assistant director, Elyse Johnston, and break up some of the heaviness of the story.
In American accents, the actors worked hard across multiple roles, delivering a number of highlights. Kirsty Pickering was always committed and in command of her performance with many engaging moments, while Chris Nguyen was believable and poised as his various characters, particularly as the mountain biker who found the body of Matthew Shepard. Chad Terry delivered some searing monologues, and his comedic performance as a preppy Mormon minister an effective and compelling watch. Other highlights included arresting vocal work from Charlotte Trevaskes in hymns, the palpable stage presence and comedic energy of Sam Webb, and the obvious chemistry and commitment of the entire cast.
Overall, Ad Astra’s production of ‘The Laramie Project’ channelled the power of the source text and successfully honoured the thoughtful and compassionate investigation of a town and a terrible crime. The cast, crew and creatives brought their own spin to the story, allowing actors to bring their own encounters with the text to the performances, and not permitting the audience to hide in the darkness, away from the events portrayed. This was a well-performed and designed production, and one that carried the play’s message against hate, for understanding and in honour of the memory and legacy of Matthew Shepard.
‘The Laramie Project’ performs until Saturday, 20 February at Ad Astra. For more information visit Ad Astra Creativity’s website.