Monday, Oct. 6, 2008

Soulstice Theatre's Laramie Project 10 Years Later

By Russ Bickerstaff
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It’s an anniversary that’ll probably get lost somewhere between the election and the economy: ten years ago on the evening of October 7 1998, a 20-year-old man was offered a ride by two men in a bar. The following morning the 20-year-old was found savagely beaten and tied to a fence. Matthew Shepard was not the first person to be killed for being a homosexual. He wasn’t even the first homosexual man whose murder made it to the national news. (Harvey Milk was assassinated twenty years before the Shepard murder.) Shepard’s murder hit the right nerve at the right time and there was a massive outpouring of sympathy. And since the murder occurred in a small town that would come to be defined by the event, the town of Laramie, Wyoming (population 27,000) did what they could to acknowledge the viciousness of the murder while attempting to prove to themselves and anyone who would listen that Laramie is actually a nice place populated by nice people. To this end, they welcomed playwright Moises Kaufman and a group of his associates from the Tectonic Theater Project to work with the people of Laramie in the interest of bringing their bewildering mix of human drama to the stage. 8 years after its debut, Soulstice Theatre bring Kaufman’s The Laramie Project to the tiny Academy Studio on the fourth floor of the Marian Center for a two week run. Having opened this past week, the show closes this coming weekend with performances on October 10th and 11th.

Consisting largely of monologues taken from actual interviews of Laramie residents, The Laramie Project relies pretty heavily on raw acting ability to draw an audience-in. The Soulstice production adds to this a bit simply by putting all that human emotion as close to the audience as it does here. There’s a slight problem with some of the blocking in some of the presentation here. People take turns doing snippets of monologue that are spoken from various places all over that space between the chairs that serves as the stage. While this is vastly preferable to having them take turns standing in a single spot to deliver lines, some of what is spoken is spoken with an actor’s back facing people in the front row on one side to favor only part of the audience. In one instance, I was blasted with a stage light for a few minutes as an actor delivered a bit of monologue with his back to me facing only about 60% of the audience. Minor technical bits aside, this is a really emotionally gripping production considering it’s little more than a string of monologues. Given to the wrong cast, this would be intolerably boring in spite of the intensity of its subject matter. The sequence of voices drifts between the Soulstice actors and the Laramie characters with compelling cadence. The questions of human aggression and the guilt of a community cleverly surface in three acts with two intermissions. As with the world outside the stage, none of the really important philosophical questions about the event are answered, but we get interesting insight into the complexity of society. This is compassionate, compelling theater.

Soulstice Theater’s The Laramie Project
closes with performances on the 10th and the 11th. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales go to the Mathew Shepard Foundation. 414-431-3187 or www.soulsticetheatre.org

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