THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project
Executive Producer: James Mansfield, Stage Manager: Kit Bauldry with assistance from Kailey Kacaba and Nancy Cann, Director: Joan Mansfield
With: Gillian Campbell, Diana Chappell, Nicholas Ferron, Barb Grenier, Robert Herr, Mike Kutrowski, Meg Oxenholm, Kyle Robertson
As patrons of and participants in live theatrical productions in Durham Region, there is a line from the docudrama THE LARAMIE PROJECT that resonates with all of us: “You have to say it right. You have to say it correct.” This is the challenge for any director and cast to make sure they say it right and say it correct no matter what art form is presented to the general public.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT is another ensemble ‘actor piece’ that many professional and non-professional performing artists would like to add to their resumes simply for the fact that, if done right and correct, its’ message is timeless. LARAMIE draws on Mr. Kaufman and the Tectonic Project’s accounts of news reports, conversations with local residents and first hand accounts of events before and after this horrible hate crime of homophobia against the struggles and death of Matthew Shephard in Laramie, Wyoming for the reason of who he was. When the play was first performed it was highly controversial, albeit powerful, as some of the language and dialogue is raw, hurtful, spiteful and vengeful. As we move further into the twenty first century, this play becomes even more important as Mrs. Mansfield pointed out in her public address to the small audience before the performance began.
For her, in treating this story with poignant sensitivity, LARARMIE transcends ALL hatred and not just homophobia given the world in which we find ourselves right now. Heavy and risky stuff for an audience to consider especially on a Friday night, but kudos to the actors and crew who rehearsed the play in order to have it ready for Anti Bullying Week.
The semi-circular set design on the intimate Dnipro stage is intriguing to watch for actor entrances and exits. For this particular production, every inch of the stage is used to its’ maximum. The set design worked to allow a smooth transition for the actors and scene changes to unfold in this near three-hour production with intermission.
Opening piano musical score by Chopin’s C Sharp Minor Waltz hauntingly underscored the empathetic directorial vision. There were some beautiful tableaux moments created to heighten dramatic effect. The first comes at the top of the show as the cast reconstructs the iconic buck wooden fence as they hum“Amazing Grace.” Another moment occurs at the end of the production as all eight actors, with their backs to the audience, have their heads bowed in respectful prayer and a moment of silence for Matthew and for all victims of hate crimes everywhere.
Lighting and special effects are crucial in order for this play to have its tremendous impact. The Dnipro Hall’s lighting is limited in this respect as the venue for many years was used solely for wedding celebrations, and for Durham Region’s weeklong Fiesta celebrations in June. Nevertheless, DANCYN has not allowed this limitation to affect a performance standard. Lighting designer, Zac Mansfield, has painstakingly and exhaustively worked tirelessly to ensure the best lighting design possible set by Joan’s directorial vision.
This enthusiastic troupe of actors, who are diverse in their age range and experience, are to be commended for tackling this highly charged drama, as the rehearsal process would have been challenging for its four-week period. These individuals want to pay tremendous respect to the material and to acknowledge it was an awful event that occurred. Once again, DANCYN is to be applauded for its’ mandate to ensure new faces and talent are seen on stage here in Durham, and I hope these people will return in future for other productions.
There are moments where these eight performers are a true ensemble of players who listen, who watch, who hear and who respond accordingly given the context of a particular scene. For example, the scene at the Fireside Bar where the patrons recount the last time Matthew Shepard was seen there before his disappearance heightened some of the dramatic intensity needed.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT continues this week at the Dnipro Hall and Theatre, 681 Dnipro Blvd in Oshawa. Tickets ($20) may be purchased at the door (cash only) before the performance or online Performance dates this week are Wednesday March 1 – Saturday March 4 inclusive at 8 pm with a final performance on Sunday March 5 at 2 pm.