Monday, June 11, 2012

'The Laramie Project' brilliantly refined by Valencia


     The Valencia Theater Company is currently presenting a rousing adaptation of “The Laramie Project” in the Black Box Theater at Valencia's East Campus. This play is based on the tragic, hate-inspired 1998 death of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo. Talented acting, superb technological additions and an unconventional approach make this show powerfully moving and hauntingly real.

     “I thought the play moved along nicely, and I loved seeing the reaction from the house,” said Julia Gagne, the plays' director. She sat in the middle of the audience to hear the reactions of the people in attendance, providing her with a strong positive feedback.

     The play is written from actual interviews and other accounts from the townsfolk of Laramie soon after the news of what happened was made public. What Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company found in over 200 interviews is a cross-section of the good, bad, and indifferent people of the town and how they were all affected by this violent hate crime.

     Strong sociological issues and striking emotional conventions are all conveyed by the diverse ensemble cast of eight actors. Each lead actor has to portray multiple characters and alternate between most of them through the production. This creates a complex challenge that every actor tackled with a fluid style and strong consistency. Quick announcements between cast members that inform the audience who is speaking gives little room for error in the dialog, and were all performed seamlessly throughout the production.

     Getting to know the back story and the actual people involved is what the opening act of this production is all about. Audience members were seated on four sides of the center stage in a arena configuration as the introduction process began. A circle of eight chairs facing outward was filled with the lead cast, and during key moments of the story they would branch off from the group to different corners of the stage to show a dramatic emphasis on what was said.

     ”It’s better in an intimate setting like this,” said audience member Kelli Mondshein. She herself performed this play during high school, but not with a close knit arena configuration like this, and feels it helps to create an overall realistic feel to the production.

     The media firestorm that descended on the small town of Laramie is perfectly represented during the second act of this play. A 12-foot media tower with 11 functional television monitors is brought out by actors portraying reporters and camera operators covering the story. The people don't like all the negative attention brought to their town, and reluctantly work with the media to get the true story out.

     The trial for convicted murderers Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson completes the third act, and presents the pinnacle moment in the production. This is the moment when Matthew's father Dennis Shepard, played by Daniel Crosby, is given the choice to put McKinney to death, but instead grants him life by brokering a deal to give him two consecutive life sentences.

     “It’s actually very stressful,” said Daniel Crosby, talking about his role as Dennis Shepard. “You’re not only holding the play together, you’re convincingly showing the hard decision to spare someone's life that has wronged you,”

     If you missed the opening week of shows, there is still time to see this production, with three shows between June 14 to June 17, starting at 7:30 p.m. A final performance is at 2 p.m on Sunday, June 17. Also, because of strong language and adult themes, no one under the age of 13 will be allowed to attend the remaining performances.

     Tickets will cost $10 for general admission, and $8 for Valencia faculty, staff and students. A $2 discount is available with online ticket purchases by using the purchase code “VALENCIAWEB” at http://bit.ly/TheLaramieProject.

By James Tutten
info@jamestutten.com

(Published: June 13, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 7.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Brenna Arden Warner has an emotional moment.








Jessica Meguiar holds a Bible during a religious speech.


Chris Markcity reports as a member of the media.

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