Minimalist theatre is art form. It requires skill, finesse and craftsmanship on the part of the director and indeed, the entire team of creatives and crew. Luckily for Melbourne audiences Mockingbird Theatre’s production of The Laramie Project does justice to those principles in offering truth and clarity to the story of what happened in 1998 to one young man in a small town called Laramie.
This is the story of Matthew Shepherd. A young gay man whose life was unexpectedly, and undeservedly, cut short. In a demeaning and savage attack he was beaten and left to die by a buck fence. That in itself is enough to move anyone to shock and compassion. But there is more. This wasn’t just any attack. This was an example of homophobic violence. And it required an inquest into the very nature of the human condition – the people of Laramie needed to speak and share their experience of how this event transformed their life. Tectonic Theatre, a New York based theatre company, made their way to Laramie to develop a theatre project and the script that was developed by Moises Kaufman and his ensemble was based almost entirely on transcripts is what we know today as The Laramie Project.
For a production that runs nearly for three hours (with two intervals) and is laden with numerous layers of emotional excavations it is a credit to director Chris Baldock and his cast of eight (with each actor playing a number of different characters) that this is such a seamless and focused performance.
Amidst a talented cast there were certain moments when an actor would bring just a touch of something extra to a particular character – that rare combination of conviction and raw honesty. Sarah Reuben’s performance as a young woman asking, demanding that Laramie be recognized (and recognize itself) for a town where such things ‘did happen’ was an incredibly powerful moment. Equally poignant was Adam Ward’s performance as the father of Matthew Shepherd, addressing the young man who had taken his own child’s life. The police officer was one of the most frequently revisited characters and Tamara Donnellan’s consistently nuanced performance and the relationship between daughter and mother (Debra Low) was certainly one of the highlights of the production.
Sparse and effective, the vignettes are complemented by Douglas Montgomery’s excellent lighting design which with the exception of a few moments, is almost perfect. The backdrop and soundscape also work well but with too many obvious references to Americana including the film American Beauty it was at times, slightly distracting.
However, the primary strength of this production is in the acting, the shaping and the delivery of massive amounts of information with care and consideration with a simple but evocative aesthetic. Under the direction of Baldockthis carefully crafted production will make you, undoubtedly, pause and reflect.
Ultimately, as the Catholic priest asked Tectonic, all that could be done was to tell the truth. And the truth was told in the very best way possible – honestly.