If there is one thing director of The Laramie Project Dan Lane has done well it is making sure the audience knows this is a true story.
Written by Moises Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theatre Project in New York, this is a documentary-style play, full of monologues directed straight at the audience. The actors constantly break the fourth wall and it is always made clear to the audience which Laramie residents the actors are playing.
We are able to observe all that is traditionally supposed to go on backstage, such as costume changing. This creates an effective and perhaps much-needed parallel between reality now and reality then.
I doubt I have ever made so much eye contact with performers before it truly felt like I was a part of the the play rather than just a spectator. When Daren King as Dr Rulon Stacey comes forward to announce the death of Matthew Shepard, he looked straight into my eyes and it felt like Matthew Shepard had indeed just died. I felt I was being talked to rather than talked at.
These moments are important for a play like Laramie because its main purpose is not just to invoke observation but to also provide factual information, to document. Being a part of the play and engaging with the actors makes the whole thing a lot more realistic.
Aaron Bernard, who plays 13 roles, is able to switch flawlessly from one character to another, changing accent and attitude with great fortitude and efficiency. One moment he plays a wise open-minded cab driver with a big-city accent and the next minute he’s homophic small-town hick Conrad Miller, who thinks gay people are the equivalent of animals. His acting and characterisation push the plot forward. He draws contrasts and gives light to many of the underlying issues which the play aims to address.
The Nash Theatre is hardly a spectacular venue. The audience sit on plastic chairs and there is no control booth; you can hear the light switch turn on and off as scenes change, but perhaps this works to the play’s and actors’ advantage. We enjoy an intimacy we would have otherwise not experience in larger theatres and as an audience we were all able to develop a relationship with each of the actors on an individual basis.
The Laramie Project is a piece put together from interviews with the residents of Laramie, as well as journal entries. It is the story of Matthew Shepard, a homosexual man who was robbed and killed in 1998 by two homophobic men. The director, Dan Lane, noted the play could just as easily be set in present-day regional Australia. Essentially it is a play about community.