The Laramie Project

Pittsburgh Public Theater's Young Company presents The Laramie Project. This play was written by Moisés Kaufman and the members of Tectonic Theater Project and is based on over 200 interviews with citizens of Laramie, Wyoming, after Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was beaten, bound to a fence and left to die outside Laramie in 1998. As 10 actors portray more than 60 people, a picture is drawn of the town, its inhabitants, and their reactions to the murder and its resultant media frenzy.

Each summer, The Young Company ensemble, college students and recent grads, presents a theater piece at the O'Reilly Theater. This is the company's first venture into contemporary theatre and it is indeed a successful venture.

The sixty roles include Laramie citizens who were directly involved in or affected by the incident as well as the original Tectonic Project participants (including Mr. Kaufman) themselves. The characters' ages range from 20s to 60s and 70s. The young actors do an admirable job of covering such diverse acting challenges. From cast lists of other productions, it doesn't seem to be required by script that any one actor take on a specific collection of roles. Casting in this production is near perfect; each actor in the company has a chance to shine and none are given anything they can't handle. Standouts in the cast include Van Hansis and Georgia Prussell, who really impress with their portrayals of Doc O'Connor (limo driver in his 50s) and Reggie Fluty (30-ish policewoman), respectively.

The creators of The Laramie Project didn't set out with an end goal in mind; they just wanted to present the state of the town through the words of its citizens. The staging of this show is perfect - just enough costuming, props, and introductions to easily keep the identity of the characters straight while keeping a documentary feel. The selection of quotes used seems to be judgment-free - the citizens speak for themselves and present a diverse collection of feelings about homosexuality, hate crimes, and being in the media spotlight . It's all very interesting and a tremendous source of food for thought. This is a fresh and poignant approach which could have turned exploitative quite easily.

(left to right): Christine Ryndak, Shane Stokes, Van Hansis, Ben Pelteson, Rutina Wesley, Georgia Prussell, Eryn Joslyn
and Ian Christiansen.

The Laramie Project is presented by the Pittsburgh Public Theater's Young Company and is underwritten by Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Bayer. The show played a very short run of 10 performances and closed on July 28.

The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman & the members of the Tectonic Theater Project
The company: Ian Christiansen, Van Hansis, Eryn Joslyn, Ben Pelteson, Tyler Poelle, Georgia Prussell, Christine Ryndak, Shane Stokes, Emily Wahlund, and Rutina Wesley. Director: Jesse Berger. Scenic & Costume Design by Lea Umberger. Lighting Design by D. Joseph Hartnett. Sound Design by Zach Moore and Ryan Dixon.

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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