The Laramie Project features approximately 95 light cues. It is also over two hours long and contains more than 80 characters. For those of you familiar with Bottom Line Theatre and the Seaver Theatre’s Large Studio, these numbers should already be at odds with the scale of production you have come to expect. For director Joseph Long PO ’14, the play was an ambitious choice, particularly given limited time and resources. With a cast of eight and minimal crew, everyone must assume multiple roles.
For the unfamiliar, The Laramie Project is a piece of documentary theater about the brutal murder of a gay university student as described by the residents of the town of Laramie, Wyoming. Created by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, it also happens to be one of the most frequently performed plays in the country, and is often used as a teaching tool to fight homophobia in schools and communities.
And yet, Laramie is not a play that lectures you; it weaves together the words of many contradictory sources and presents them for your consideration.
Virtually no action actually takes place on stage. Instead, the various characters recount the story from vastly different perspectives. This approach invites audiences to draw their own conclusions on topics ranging from religion to the media. Additionally, it challenges the actors not only to distinguish between abrupt character changes, but also to give life to a story that is told rather than shown.
Despite these challenges, Long’s ambition and creativity pay off. The production plays to its strengths and strips away the rest. With a minimal set and only suggestive costumes, nearly everything is left to the imagination, giving the actors the freedom and responsibility to shape the story. The talented cast rises to the occasion, managing to respect both the gravity and humor of the play without resorting to melodrama or farce.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this production is its pacing, which tends to slow during the many somber moments and scene transitions. However, this is countered effectively by the ensemble scenes, especially those during the second act, which make good use of the space and lighting to keep the play in motion.
Notable performances include those of Claudia Crook PO ’14, whose excellent character differentiation and comic timing sustain the play’s energy throughout; Bob Lutz PO ’13, whose understated monologues provide a dramatic anchor to the play; and Ian Gallogly PO ’13, who juggles his characters convincingly and compellingly.
The Laramie Project provides a frank perspective on the nature and dangers of homophobia. This is not an unfamiliar issue to students at the Claremont Colleges. However, this production approaches it more effectively than an orientation-week discussion or panel of speakers. Go. It is not always smooth, nor particularly ostentatious, but it is warm, capably handled and sincere.
The Laramie Project will be performed Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Large Studio at Seaver Theatre, with one ten-minute intermission. The performance is free.