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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Laramie Project
at Berkeley Rep

Also see Richard's review of It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman


The Berkeley Rep Company is presenting the West Coast premier of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project with many members of the original Tectonic Theater Project repeating their original roles. This was a deeply moving production brilliantly designed by Brill and with surreal video and slide images by Martha Swetzoff. It had a mesmerizing effect on me.

The actors sit in rows on heavy wooden chairs and they stare vacantly at the audience. I was reminded of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. There are 10 actors in all and they cleverly shift from one character to another. They slip effortlessly into the accents and mannerisms of sixty characters. There are all sorts of characters from rednecks to pro-gay people to a fiery anti-gay preacher. There are people caught in the middle of the controversy and even a Muslim feminist who lives in Laramie.

The play, of course, is about the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The central character, Matthew, is not played by an actor and even the two men accused and convicted of the murder are minor characters in this production. The docudrama is really about the town of Laramie and the effect the murder had on this town of 28,000 residents.

As an oral history, this is a vibrant achievement. All of the dialogue was taken from taped interviews with the townspeople. Members of the Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie and interviewed several hundred residents, participants and observers of the case. The company then took the best of the interviews and made a powerful three hour docudrama with two intermissions.

All of the members of this amazing cast stand out and it is hard to cite individual performances. Unfortunately, the program gives only the names of the artists but does not tell who played whom. Local actress Amy Resnick is outstanding in her many roles including that of the little boy who discovered Matthew hanging almost dead on a fence. Barbara Pitts also is prominent as an Islamic feminist living in the small college town. She is able to say very simply about the town, "It happened here, so how could it not be a town where this kind of thing happens?"

James Asher is very chilling when he plays one of the convicted killers giving his confession as to what happened that night. He plays it eerily and with an icy flatness. One of the most poignant moments is given by Greg Pierotti of the Teutonic Theater Project who plays the doctor who tried to save Matthew in the hospital. He had some homophobic feelings prior to the killing and changed to feeling great tenderness toward the Shepard. It was a heartrending performance.

This production is being presented in the new Berkeley Rep Roda Theater. The 397 seat theater is a perfect theater in which to see the upcoming productions of the Berkeley Rep. Every seat has a great sight line, the acoustics are great and the stage is very wide and deep. I look forward to more productions at the Roda Theater.

Laramie Project will run through July 8th with tickets priced from $40.50 to $51. Call (510)647-2949 or go to www.berkeleyrep.org.


- Richard Connema



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