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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `The Laramie Project’

E-mail: SimonSaltzman@princetoninfo.com

Docudrama doesn’t get much better than in "The

Laramie Project," a series of dramatic interviews that arose from

the horrifying events surrounding the fatal 1998 beating of Matthew

Shepard, a gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming. As recreated and

performed by eight members of Moises Kaufman’s award-winning Tectonic

Theater Project, the same group that brought journalistic flair to

"Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," "The

Laramie Project" imparts no subjective ideology or opinions. What

it does do, with confidence and theatrical expertise, is configure

the opinions and attitudes of a cross-section of ordinary people,

citizens of Laramie, population 26,687, into a riveting and enlightening

event.

The young man on a bicycle who discovers Shepard’s brutalized body;

the sheriff’s deputy who arrives on the scene and inadvertently comes

in contact with the still-breathing, blood-soaked H.I.V. infected

victim who had been tied to a fence; a lesbian waitress; the bartender

who was the last person to see Shepard; and a gay university professor

are just some of the people whose statements and responses to the

tragedy define a town and its ethos. Even the positions of the anti-gay

protester-preacher, and the more conciliatory Roman Catholic priest

are represented without reproach. Neither Shepard, the theater student

whose parents could not bring themselves to see his performance in

"Angels in America," nor his killers, Russell A. Henderson

and Aaron J. McKinney (whose grandmother has her say), are the main

focus. But, they remain foremost as symbols in this exploration into

the nature and nurturing of hate.

The actors traveled to Laramie on six different occasions to interview

over 200 people, 60 of whom they portray. That they never appear to

betray or condescend to the diverse and idiosyncratic natures of their

subjects is one of the play’s distinctions. In the light of their

visit, in the midst of what had become a media frenzy, the company

was, nevertheless, able to extract from the guardedly open interviewees

what life was, is and will possibly never be again in this corner

of America.

Designer Robert Brill’s somber setting, with only a row of wooden

chairs as props, makes a statement appropriately in tone with the

openness and sparseness of the Project wherein the actors, often performing

multiple roles, are either seated or standing. After an exposition

in which the actors explain their mission and intent, the story unfolds

without pretension but with journalistic persistence. We can deduce

how the values of old-fashioned homogenous simplicity in this once

prime pasture and prairie town has been unsettled by an encroaching

world of arts and letters, have and have-nots, outsiders and strangers.

Considering that the company has not attempted to embellish or distort

the words of the actual people involved, there is a compelling honesty

to the text. This honesty, which is notably free of emotional content,

allows us to see the people of Laramie in the light of their own perceptions

about normalcy and decency. There is even humor woven into the interviewees’

instinctive distrust of the project, something not lost by Kaufman

and Leigh Fondakowski, and the dozen or so writers, dramaturgs, and

editors. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

The Laramie Project, Union Square Theater, 100 East 17

Street, 212-505-0700. $55.

Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations

can be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,

800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open

daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday

matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade

Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday

from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location

on the day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no

credit cards. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org.


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