Theatre is a collective experience. Bringing an audience together to observe a story being acted out can sometimes provoke wildly divergent responses. If the script is good and the performers are committed, that shared communal experience can be overwhelmingly exciting.
That kind of excitement permeates this staging of The Laramie Project, a fascinating piece of theatre that essentially chronicles its own creation.
In October 1998, 21-year old Matthew Shepard met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, Wyoming. They offered him a ride home but instead drove to a remote area where they robbed him, severely beat him, and left him tied to a fence post, where he remained for eighteen hours. McKinney and Henderson were subsequently arrested and charged and over the course of their trial it became clear that they targeted this young man because of his sexual orientation.
Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie just a few weeks after this tragic event to interview hundreds of residents about their reaction – not only to Shepard's murder but also the media attention that it brought to their town. Those interviews form the basis of The Laramie Project.
Director Mario D'Alimonte and producer Merle Garbe have assembled a dedicated cast of eight performers to portray 60 different characters as we follow Kaufman and his troupe on their exploration of what really happened to Shepard. It's not a pretty story. What emerges is an indictment against homophobia and a plea for acceptance or at least tolerance for alternative lifestyles. D'Alimonte's deft staging includes judicious use of film and video to help establish where particular scenes are taking place and the identity of the people involved.
Space does not permit listing of the individual performers and explaining the various roles they undertake. Every member of this cast deserves special praise for their dedication to this audacious production, although perhaps the most important contributor to this show is the audience. Tellingly, at the opening night performance nearly everyone stayed afterwards to talk about their communal experience of seeing this powerfully provocative play.
The Laramie Project continues through Sunday February 5 in the Studio Theatre at the Toronto centre for the Arts, 5040 Yonge St. For tickets or more info log onto www.encoreshows.com or call 1-855-985-2787.