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The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

Also see Sharon's review of Lost Girls


Carl J. Johnson, Ed F. Martin and Paul Haitkin
I admit to a certain reluctance to see The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The original play was so extraordinary, I feared this would be one of those sequels which is not only weaker than the original, but which somehow spoils the memory of its predecessor. Beyond that, the subject matter alone was somewhat lesser. The original Laramie Project asked what kind of town could give birth to a crime as vile as the murder of Matthew Shepard; the follow-up asks what, if anything, has changed in Laramie, after the murder, the trial, and (as it happens) the original play made the very name of this city synonymous with homophobic violence. The first play dealt with a raw wound, and poked at it; the second play is more scholarly and intellectual, focussing on topics such as legislative change. It can't possibly be as emotionally shattering and simultaneously uplifting as the original.

And, to be fair, that's all true. About five minutes before the intermission in The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, I even questioned why the Tectonic Theater Project had bothered making this a two-act play, rather than a 90-minute single-act epilogue to the original. But right before the intermission, that question is answered: Tectonic members obtained interviews with the murderers. This puts us solidly back into original Laramie Project territory: could we now find out what was going on in the heads of the two men who did this unspeakable act? And while some folks in Laramie might have managed to develop a self-protective shell of denial and revisionist history, the two men living every day with the fact of their incarceration for the offense wouldn't have that kind of luxury. The production treats these two interviews differently than all of its others. As with the original play, the script is comprised of excerpts of interviews conducted with numerous individuals, interwoven to create dramatic effect, with castmembers playing multiple roles (including the interviewers). But the interviews with the murderers are presented as intact wholes, and the two actors who play these men portray no one else. There's a recognition that these men are different, and are treated as such. At the same time, though, the interviews are still presented as part of the play. Indeed, it is impossible to watch a scene of an actor interviewing a murderer without being intensely aware that the interviewer is an actor—he's not a lawyer, a detective, or a member of the parole board; he's just a human being trying to understand the twisted brain of the person in front of him.

The production, which is the show's first fully staged production in Los Angeles, is first rate. Director Ken Sawyer expertly moves his cast of 11 through this script; the dozens of characters they create are neatly differentiated. More than that, those individuals whose storylines appear throughout the play are beautifully realized; the audience gets caught up in their tales, and, with several, we care deeply about them. Staged in the small Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the production is in the round, using every bit of available space. Actors sit in the audience when not performing; Robert Selander's set continues all around us, drawing us in. With so many actors playing so many characters, this is a true ensemble production, and it seems almost unfair to single someone out. That said, Che Landon's portrayal of Romaine Patterson (we saw the character in the original; she was Matthew's friend, and became an activist) is designed to elicit tears, and certainly succeeds.

My single quibble with the production is an updating of the script. At one point, the show makes the point that, ten years after Matthew's murder, very little had occurred in terms of anti-discrimination legislation. But the play then undermines this by rattling off (to audience applause) the more recent legislative and judicial victories. It's a fair point—in the four years since this play premiered, a great deal of progress has been made, and that should not be overlooked. However, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later is a very specific portrait of a very specific period of time. The frustration at the lack of progress in ten years after Matthew's murder is one of the messages of the play; that message is undermined by the immediate mention that progress has since occurred.

It is a small quibble, though. Like the original, this is a complex play, a mix of theatricality and social history, a story of frustration and triumph, lovingly told.

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later runs at the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre through November 16, 2013. For tickets and information, see www.lagaycenter.org/theatre

The L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center Proudly Presents The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Written by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, and Stephen Belber. Directed by Ken Sawyer; Produced by Jon Imperato. Assistant Director/Production Stage Manager Shaunessy Quinn; Set Designer Robert Selander; Scenic Artist David Burnham; Lighting Designer Luke Moyer; Costume Designer Paula Higgins; Sound Designer Ken Sawyer; Casting Director Raul Staggs; Publicity Ken Werther Publicity.

Cast: Paul Haitkin. Michael Hanson; Elizabeth Herron; Carl J. Johnson; Che Landon; Ed F. Martin; Ann Noble; Dylan Seaton; Christine Sloane; Paul Witten; and Johanna Chase


Photo: Win Win Imaging


- Sharon Perlmutter






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