On Oct. 6, 1998, a young gay man named Matthew Shepard was taken to the prairie of Laramie, Wyo., by two men and beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die. Eighteen hours later he was found, still alive, and flown to a Colorado hospital. He died five days later.
Following his death, and over the next two years, members of the New York City-based Tectonic Theatre Project traveled to Wyoming six times, interviewing the people involved and the residents of Laramie.
The play they created, The Laramie Project, is less about Shepard and his attack than it is about a town shaken to its core by the realization that "it can happen here." A large cast plays multiple roles and in documentary style tells the story of a town falling apart and just beginning the huge journey toward healing.
At one time, Laramie was the most frequently produced play on American college campuses, and it's to Tectonic's credit that this show, which is really a series of talking-head interviews, is as compelling as it is. For my money, they've inserted themselves and the process of gathering the material a little too often; actors feeling their feelings about the subject matter just interrupts, and is ultimately overwhelmed by, the subject itself.
But that's a small complaint. The Laramie Project packs quite a punch, as is terrifically demonstrated by this latest production from the New Olde Bank Theatre.
A small community group, New Olde Bank is a very much a shoestring outfit … and that artistic austerity perfectly suits this work. It's just actors and a script: no props, no costumes and a bunch of chairs the only set. (Although a little bit more lighting wouldn't have gone amiss.)
Director Sean Michael O'Donnell does great work drawing us in, and the story is told with integrity and simplicity. Now and again the actors may be a little more "actor-y" than is good for them, but I do want to mention all of them -- Abby Lis-Perlis, Tom Protulipac, Lori Barrage, Roberta Honse, Ned Johnstone, Matt Davidson, Cynthia Caul, Kevin Frech and Natalie Moretti -- and congratulate them for the moving and forceful work they've done.
The Laramie Project continues through Sat., June 25. New Olde Bank Theatre. 722 Allegheny River Blvd., Verona. 412-251-7904 or www.newobt.com