The Laramie Project Cycle: Theater review by David Cote. BAM Harvey Theater (see Off Broadway). By the Tectonic Theater Project. Dir. Moisés Kaufman. With ensemble cast. Part 1: 2hrs 25mins, two intermissions. Part 2: 1hr 45mins, one intermission.
Scrupulous, outraged but evenhanded, The Laramie Project and its ten-years-later sequel inspire sincere gratitude for Moisés Kaufman and his actors’ commitment to probing the 1998 hate-crime murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and its lasting impact on Laramie, Wyoming. Kaufman and the performers earnestly canvassed the town to capture a spectrum of conflicted—sometimes irrational, sometimes enlightened—responses to the crime, the media frenzy and the ensuing shame. But another, nagging thought occurs: Whither documentary theater? With the notable exception of the Civilians and Anna Deavere Smith’s ongoing work, there’s a movement lacking. Why didn’t The Laramie Project, more than a dozen years ago, inspire a spate of similar verbatim plays? Where’s The Katrina Project? The BP Oil-Spill Project? Will there ever be a Newtown Project?
Perhaps we should just cherish the ones that do exist. The Laramie Project Cycle, which you can see as two separate shows or together on marathon days, is a sobering panorama of American attitudes toward homosexuality, the media, community and crime. When I saw the first piece in 2000, there was a whiff of self-congratulatory importance about it. That hasn’t entirely disappeared, but now it is tempered by a rueful acknowledgment that social change is slow and must be argued around the dinner table as much as passed into law in the statehouse. What’s particularly striking, and depressing, about the sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, is how misinformation and ignorance have filled in the blanks of civic memory. We hear from college students who have barely heard of Shepard; Laramie residents who angrily insist it was a robbery gone awry; a police officer whose exemplary work was cynically distorted by the media. Mythology fights with revisionism, while reality is forgotten. Personally, I go to the theater expecting the truth, not hard facts. The Laramie Project Cycle delivers both.—David Cote
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