Theatre Review: The Laramie Project

Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre & Holden Street Theatres

Reviewed: October 21st 2021

On the evening of the 6th of October 1998 when Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man, was abducted, cruelly bashed and left for dead tied to a fence just outside of Laramie, in Albany County Wyoming, the world was changed. The Laramie Project is a coruscating piece of verbatim theatre based on interviews by members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, led by Moises Kaufman, with the inhabitants of the town, journal entries made during the interviews by members of the theatre company, and news reports.

Brant Eustice is the director of this extraordinary, devastating and emotionally raw piece of work, ably assisted by Tracey Walker. Together they have guided this talented ensemble of ten actors to pick you up and carry you through the journey of the year of Matthew’s death. With mercurial changes they introduce you to the 60 or so inhabitants of Laramie with deft and cleverly contrived simple changes of costume and accent. Not once was there a hint of caricature as the cast moved through the story of a town in shock after a brutal act leaves a lasting mark on a community. It is an evening in the theatre that is both moving and shocking and, as is the mark of all good theatre, I hadn’t realised that I had been sitting in the theatre for approaching three hours when the play ended. I was moved, entertained, shocked and outraged as the story of Matthew Shepard and its effect on the people of Laramie unfolded before my very eyes.

Tom Tassone, Samuel Creighton, Anita Zamberian Canala, Sharon Malujlo, Chris Gun, Matt Houston, Jasmine Leech, Nadia Talotta, Nick Kennet and Cheryl Douglas don’t leave the stage for the duration of the play, and the situations, moods and emotional situations they create are real and moving. The ability of every cast member to create the imaginary space they are working in was supported with nuanced skill by the soundscape so cleverly designed and sensitively applied by Sean Smith. Ruby Faith’s deft touch to Richard Parkhill’s clever lighting plot lifted and carried the piece forward. This ensemble truly works together to enhance the story and propel the audience through a range of emotionally challenging scenarios which left me breathless and totally engaged as the cast transformed constantly with simple costume changes. And, as always, Kate Prescott’s set was a cleverly realised space that gave the actors room to move and an active and clear set of spaces to claim for their characters. And that fence!

From the Stonewall riots in 1969 when members of the gay community rose up and protested about the constant raiding of their safe spaces to the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras march in 1978 when members of the Sydney gay community were arrested and beaten by police for marching peacefully through the streets of Sydney to the death of Matthew Shepard in 1998 by two young men who were educated by their environment to be homophobic, we have been forced to witness how prejudice affects human life. We constantly strive for an inclusive society; this play underpins the fact that we can never do enough.

It is good to be reminded of how prejudice creates its own change sometimes for the better, sometimes with devastating and heartbreaking outcomes. We have another play produced by the community theatre sector of Adelaide in the capable hands of Brant Eustice and Red Phoenix Theatre Company that will enliven debate and enrich our theatre lives. It is another play that has waited out a pandemic to enrich our lives with a truly honest look at where we are 23 years on. We have a lot of work to do – go and see this play and be reminded. It is yet another parable for our time.

Reviewed by Adrian Barnes

Venue: Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh SA 5007

Season: 21 – 23; 27 – 30 Oct: 7:30pm

               24 Oct: 2pm

Duration: Approx 3 hours (including 2×15 minutes intervals)

Tickets: General Admisission $25.00. Conc: $19 Group (6+) $21


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