The unfortunate truth is, sometimes it takes a tragedy for eyes to be opened and significant change for the better to occur. The torture and murder of Mathew Shepard, the hate crime heard around the world, is one example of this. Foothill College’s production of The Laramie Project is an example of good art used for educating, healing and social progress.
The lines between tolerance and acceptance, acceptance and understanding, understanding and practicing that understanding are all explored in this piece which includes actual interviews from Laramie residents collected in the days following the brutal attack and the media explosion that surrounded the small Wyoming town as a result.
This show is performed by mostly Foothill College Conservatory members with a few other community members filling in some of the roles. It’s been said you’re only as strong as your weakest link and in the case of the acting, this holds true. While there are some weaker performance, I wouldn’t say they are weak, just less strong. There are those who are amazing at transforming into their characters, and there are those actors who are not as successful at creating distinct characters. I usually just despise actors playing multiple roles. I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief in such instances. A vest or hat is not enough to make me feel like you’ve done your job as an actor more often than not. That being said, the fact that actors playing multiple roles forces you to stay an observer rather than get caught up in the play works to this plays advantage.
Surprisingly enough, instead of dredging up immediate, emotional responses to every opinion presented, this play, as is its charge and mission, allowed for me to somehow detach myself and just stay in the moment. I found it very easy to hear each of the characters out, to reserve judgment until the end. Given the topic this is a quite a feat and certainly speaks to the commitment of the writers but also to the cast and director. In this the multiple casting doesn’t feel like it cheapens the play at all, and in fact helps to get through it without letting rage or sorrow distract you. Listening is what we need to erase that hate, listening will educate us, listening and learning will create the change we need and I think every actor up on stage believed that everyone deserved to be heard in order to continue that process of education.
As far as visuals, the Lohman Theatre is extremely flexible. So much more than a black box it’s the perfect balance between flexible high-end technical theatre (some great sound, lights and multimedia elements were effective to be sure) and intimate experience (no fancy backgrounds or set allowed us to focus on the actors tell the stories.) The space is used very well and I never felt that it was overly dramatic staging. Only once was my sight line obstructed (by an umbrella) and everything else was cleverly and cleanly positioned, natural and unobtrusive.
If you’ve never seen this important play before this version is certainly a good place to start. The solemn, contemporary, and respectful production with some up and coming talent is well worth 3 ½ out of 5 jewels in the tiara. The Laramie Project runs at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills through November 20th.
**Two ten minute intermissions help break this lengthy production up, but it’s a lot to take in and the theatre is kept a bit chilly, so bring layers if you run cold so you can adequately enjoy it fully.