“THE LARAMIE PROJECT”
Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The second show of Providence College’s Blackfriars Theatre is “The Laramie Project” by Moises Kaufmann and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the reaction to the October, 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. The murder is widely considered to be a hate crime motivated by homophobia. The Tectonic Theater Project sent ten members to collect 200 interviews with the inhabitants of the town, company members’ own journal entries and published news reports. It is divided into two acts with the 11 performers portraying over 67 characters in a series of short scenes. Director Mary Farrell uses these performers in multiple roles to present a very moving and dramatic show with some comic moments, about the diversity of people in not only this town but across the country, too. She tells this story with both excellent direction and acting from start to finish. This story is very relevant almost 19 years later as it was back in 1998 with the political situation facing the United States in 2017, making this show one of the must see shows of this season.
The town is divided between love and hate. It has been almost 20 years since the incidents portrayed in this show occurred. The world needs to be seen in its fullness and beauty, not in its ugliness and dreariness. Matthew Shepard’s murder changed the lives of many people, not only of Laramie, but also the entire world. Unfortunately, feelings of hate and discrimination still exist in a society that, by now, should have opened its arms to all people, regardless of who and what they are. Productions of this play will hopefully open people’s eyes to learn from the past and not repeat the mistakes for the future. “The Laramie Project” is still an electrifying and relevant production that rivets you to your seat. “Amazing Grace” sets the mood as the cast sings it at Matt’s funeral in Act 2 while Act 1 ends with HOPE projected in big letters over the stage. Something we definitely need in this country now more than ever.
Matthew died under the stars of the sky all alone on the buck fence that tragic night. This cast brings these roles to life wonderfully whether they are spouting hateful diatribes about being gay, or of compassionate understanding. The performers play multiple characters in the show, so I will look at some of the roles they played in this show. Timothy Brown is fabulous in all his roles. He plays the limo driver, Doc, who is hilarious at first when he drove Matthew to the gay bar where he met his attackers. has some colorful language as this character but in the second act he makes you cry when he says Matt died under twinkling stars and also plays the “faggot” hating Jack Phelps who demonstrates at Matt’s funeral. Timothy as Dennis Shepard, Matt’s father, delivers the goods when he gives one of the murderers a life sentence instead of the death penalty, gives the show its most dramatic punch with his delivery. His son is a hero when he died on October 12 and that Aaron has Matt to thank for his life, hoping he will regret his crime. He also delivers the speech as the spokesman of the hospital to hug your children, gets choked up and cries on the air. Another tear jerking heartwarming moment in this show. Honey Perez is excellent as Reggie, the cop who might have contracted HIV from Matt after she finds him beaten and bloody on the fence. She becomes elated when she receives good news in Act 2, winning some laughs. Diane LaMattina is also topnotch as she plays her mother, Marge who delivers a few laughs and some heartfelt moments with her daughter.
The other performers do a wonderful job in their many roles, too. Brittany Price plays the ER doctor who treated Matt and when she, Reggie and Aaron Kreifels discuss Matt’s condition in Act 1 is where the show becomes more vibrant to the audience. Daniel Munoz plays the President of University of Wyoming as well as Detective Rob Debree who interrogated the two killers. Mireya Lopez is a spitfire as she plays Romaine, a lesbian who is one of Matt’s best friends who blocks Jack Phelps with her angel brigade. Julia Zygiel is the theatre teacher at the University as well as Allison, a chatty friend of Marge. Brittany is also Tiffany, a glamourous local TV reporter as well as the strict judge. Aisling Sheahan is the straight laced minister as well as the bartender who waited on Matt. Emily Clark plays the lesbian teacher, Catherine Connolly and Moises Kaufmann. Michael Izzo plays one of the murderers, Russell Henderson as well as the bar owner. He also plays the vile and evil killer, Aaron McKinney. Teddy Kiritsy is excellent as the God believing Aaron who found Matthew on the fence while riding his bike. This Aaron feels the hand of God lead him to find Matthew that night. Teddy also plays Jedadiah who explains his parents felt his appearance in “Angels in America” is a sin because he is playing a gay man but the role he played in a Shakespeare tragedy where he killed a woman, her children and numerous other people, is acceptable to them. This shows their bias against gay people. So for a show that still packs a powerful punch while teaching about tolerance and understanding, be sure too catch this superb rendition of “The Laramie Project” at Providence College’s Blackfriars Theatre.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT (27 January to 12 February)
Providence College, Blackfriars Theatre, Eaton St, Providence, RI
1(401)865-2218 or www.providence.edu/theatre