THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, directed by Joel Greenberg, with Lesley Dowey, Deborah Drakeford, Jonathan Goad, Marvin Hinz, Alison Lawrence, Mark McGrinder, Kimwun Perehinec and Dylan Roberts. Presented by Studio 180 at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to March 2, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $15-$30, limited Sunday pwyc. 416-872-1212. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The Laramie Project focuses on the horrific murder of gay student Matthew Shepard, but Shepard isn't in the spotlight. Hovering just outside the light, his presence illuminates dozens of Laramie citizens and visitors to the Wyoming town.The script, by Moiss Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, grows in power as it explores the reactions to Shepard's 1998 death.
After a slow start that sets up a supposedly idyllic small town, the script -- all the material is drawn from interviews, with the interviewers often becoming those whose testimonies they present -- offers often contradictory snapshots of Shepard that sometimes say more about the speakers than their subject. Laramie becomes a fractious, multi-toned microcosm, one that reflects overt and covert hatred as well as the understanding and acceptance that surround someone perceived as "other."
Studio 180's ensemble of actors creates some wonderfully realized characters. Among the standouts are Alison Lawrence and Deborah Drakeford as a mother and daughter affected by Shepard's death; Kimwun Perehinec as his good friend, finding a poetic way to fight a homophobic preacher (Dylan Roberts); Marvin Hinz as Shepard's distraught father; Lesley Dowey's Islamic feminist; Mark McGrinder's honest Catholic priest; and Jonathan Goad as a drama student with an instinctive sense of humanity.
Director Joel Greenberg orchestrates the movement and multiple character changes swiftly and effectively. The show has a number of wrenching moments, grippingly realized -- as well as a few episodes of comedy -- and the audience awards the production absolute stillness and concentration on the action and the emotions aroused by the actors.