The expert ensemble of eight
performs dozens of different characters with ease and precision, often using
one indicative article of costume—like a jacket or pair of glasses—to switch
between finely drawn characterizations. Original company members also play
themselves, relaying observations they made in Laramie fifteen years ago.
Simple, compelling visual design
and fluid direction for both productions are characteristic of Tectonic’s style
and practice of staying focused on voices and ideas without unnecessary
The more viscerally emotional of
the two, Part One of The Laramie Project
Cycle is also the more successfully
constructed drama. The play not only has a clear story to tell—that of the
murder and its immediate aftermath—but its voices speak with the urgency and
emotional intensity that follows hot on the heels of national tragedy.
Mostly addressing the audience
directly, company members and characters tell their personal stories—from
Matthew’s friends and University teachers, to the teenage boy who found him
tied up to a fence, the policewoman first on the scene, and the spokesman and
CEO of the Colorado hospital where Shepard died after spending several
nationally publicized days on life-support.
The immediate outpouring of
sentiment and national attention had necessarily died down when the company
returned to Laramie ten years later, which was precisely their reason for
creating a follow-up project. While the second play indeed feels like a vitally
important companion piece, it’s not quite as solidly constructed a work of
Developments they discover—like the
slow road to political change, and a lingering theory promoted by an episode of
20/20 that Shepard’s murder was a
robbery gone awry and not in fact a hate crime—are undoubtedly key pieces of
the story to understand. However, without the clear framework of a story, the
insights feel more piecemeal.
Part Two of the cycle also includes
chilling prison interviews with both of Shepard’s murderers, Aaron McKinney and
Russell Henderson, as well as inspirational words from Judy Shepard, whose
political activism paved the way for the Hate Crimes Preventions Act bearing
her son’s name, which Obama signed into law in 2009.
Our national imagination has a natural
tendency to forget the distinct, immediate heat of galvanizing tragedies so
vividly captured in The Laramie Project.
This one is worth a reminder.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: julieta cervantes)