Theater Review: ‘The Laramie Project’ — an intense drama at Auburn

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Rockford Auburn Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) brings to the stage the story of a town’s effort to deal with the violent death of Matthew Shepard. Based on the interviews of the Tectonic Theatre, we see how the citizens of Laramie, Wyo., respond to the torture and death of this young man whose homosexuality is his only “weakness.”

Directors Jim Crow and Joselyn Ludtke have chosen an exemplary cast of 16 talented students, each playing multiple roles. Each tells their story and reflects the diversity of opinions we find in every community. The play in three acts is performed on a stage well adapted to the dark theme, and used creatively to become a wide variety of settings.

Recalling another performance using the same storytelling technique, its impact on the audience is intense. Several years ago, Jessica and Erik Jensen interviewed 40 victims of a flawed justice system who had been wrongfully condemned to death. Their interviews became the basis for the compelling play, The Exonerated. The 10 actors sit on stools on a bare stage playing multiple roles, and the comparison to The Laramie Project is amazing.

Timing in the production is critical, and every actor manages to change roles instantaneously. A jacket, cap or head scarf can become the detail that gives us the essence of another character. The individual stories are so diverse that just learning lines must have been an artistic challenge. In most plays, actors are involved in conversation and get their cues from other actors. This play did not have that construction, and each player was on their own.

The program is most revealing. Derick Edgren again writes the unique summary of the play. He ends with: “Because the expression of hate versus hope may not be stressed enough. Hate is present in The Laramie Project in its rawest form; but let it be stated now that hate is not a Laramie value, nor is it a CAPA value. … Hate is not an Auburn value. … Hate is not a Rockford value.”

Every cast member in their bio wrote what The Laramie Project had taught them … a most creative way to get insight into their individual reactions to the work and to their own experience.

Sophisticated Ladies, the Duke Ellington musical, will be mounted early in April. Finding local musicians to play Ellington’s music has not been easy, but rehearsals are under way. For more details, call Auburn High School at (815) 966-3300, ext. 10111.

From the March 14-20, 2012, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!