‘The Laramies’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by October 28, 2015

‘The Laramies’ is a combination of two plays. In 1998, when a young gay boy was murdered in Laramie, Tectonic Theatre thought they would write a play based on his tragic story and so interviewed hundreds of people in the town, hence ‘The Laramie Project’ was born; this was Act One of the play. Ten years later, the same team went back to Laramie to see if homophobic attitudes had changed, and the ‘Laramie Project 10 years on’ was written – Act Two. The two stories have been adapted for the stage by the director and Course guru, Dr David Moody.
Earlier this week in Indonesia, two young women were severely flogged for being suspected of having a lesbian relationship.
This powerful production by the third year acting and production students can be seen at the Nexus Theatre, Murdoch University, South Street, Murdoch – near car park 3. The two-hour performances are at 7.00 pm (not 6.30 as on some announcements), each evening until Saturday 31st October.

The dark set was simple, several dark chairs, a barbed wire fence and a grave cross (designer Shannen Precious).
The muslin backcloth, scrim, acted as a screen for the projected, well-researched photos of Laramie and the main characters of the story – design by Katie Hutton.
The costumes required researching the fashions of the late 1990s, plus police uniforms, prison outfits and angels; the wardrobe ladies, Deborah Huntley, Milena Sheridan and Ramiah Alcantara excelled.
The sound design had just the right level of music and sound effects, with such a delicate subject they had to enhance and not intrude, well done Jordan Baynes.
The lighting was well designed by Kiah van Vlijmen, then rigged by Justin Crossley and Leigh Fitzpatrick. Smoothly operated by Claire Mosel.
The production manager, Kel Fox, was helped by Deborah Huntley and Athena Thompson; with the stage manager, Hannah Summers, assisted by Meagan Dux. A good pace was essential to retain the emotion and tension of the script, the crew worked most efficiently.

        Whilst walking on Brokeback Mountain, young Aaron Stephen (Thomas Ward) finds the severely bashed body of twenty-one years old Matt Shepard tied to a fence. He calls for the police, and Officer Fluty (Tijana Simich) and Senior Officer (Mitchell Johnson) at first think the young boy is dead. However, he is taken to hospital and despite Dr Cantway (Toni Vernon) trying her best, Matt dies. His devastated parents arrive at the hospital, but there is nothing to be done except for the father, Denis (Justin Crossley) to console Mum, Judy (Shannen Precious).
        Very quickly, two locals were rounded up; one was an extreme homophobe and sadist, Aaron McKinney (William Moriarty), the other his subservient, but repentant friend, Russell Henderson (Sean Mackey). On hearing the news, two lesbians (Xarna Rappold, Kiah van Vlijmen) were consoled by the Baptist Minister (Bradley Clarke), whilst a well-meaning bigot (Tay Broadley) thought Matt got what he deserved.
        A group of newspaper reporters (Ramiah Alcantara, Imogen Appleby) arrived along with a TV reporter (Grace Pusy), desperate to hear the comments from the Judge (My Ekstrand) before blowing the whole incident into a major controversy.
       Ten years later, the Tectonic Team returned to see how the atmosphere in the town had changed. Had homophobia reduced? They interviewed a cowboy (Leigh Fitzpatrick) and his girlfriend (Claire Tebbut), before asking the local newspaper editor (Nashyhithah Md Zaini) who was giving the readers the biased opinion that they wanted to hear.
       What had the local school children learnt about the incident from their parents? Had the legal system changed under the State Politicians?

Director David Moody, who has sensitively combined the two plays into a single script, was assisted by Chloé Laffar, Jessica Serio and Tay Broadley. Even with this large cast, most of whom had several parts, the actors had to be alert and well rehearsed. One or two of the cast occasionally struggled with minor parts of their lines, the Wyoming accent or the emotion when changing characters, but this did not impede the power or enjoyment of the story line.

The team have decided to have various actors play Matt, employing males and females, with different nationalities to show that the victim is symbolic of gays everywhere. The actors all wore rainbow T-shirts.

I have seen ‘The Laramie Project’ a couple of times in the past, and even though those productions were first class, the story seemed dry and mechanical. This blended version had extra life and achieved more sympathy for the murdered boy and his family.
A heavy and challenging subject, but sensitively handled so no desire to check my watch.
The tickets are at a sensible price and the venue comfortable, so give this show a viewing.