Terra Linda's Laramie Project does it right

Steve North
Guest Reviewer 

I just spent an extraordinary evening viewing Terra Linda High School’s production of The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufman and directed by Christina Stroeh, Terra Linda’s acclaimed drama teacher. The play is based on more than 200 interviews conducted by members of Chicago’s Tectonic Theater Group.  The interviews recount the tragedy and its aftermath of young Matthew Shepard’s brutal and tortured death on a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Never reluctant to take on challenging and difficult projects, Terra Linda’s production was both breathtaking and courageous.

The play is not divided into scenes but into moments; each moment represents the response of the person or persons being interviewed.  There are 50 moments in the play. The progression of the moments traces the sordid story and its heart rending conclusion that was so eloquently delivered by Jake Weidner who plays Matthew Shepard’s father.
Originally written for 8 actors, Christina Stroeh cast 21 students giving that many more actors the opportunity to showcase their talents. By playing multiple roles the actors portrayed over 60 citizens of Laramie ranging from the Baptist minister holding a up a placard saying God Hates Fags to the rough, ironic humor of Doc, the town’s taxi driver, to the two perpetrators of the crime, their girlfriends, their parents, the prosecuting attorney and many of the other interesting and colorful people some straight, some gay. I wish I had the time and space to mention the contribution of each individual actor.  Just let me say their acting was honest and convincing, reflecting the tremendous effort put forth to master the blocking and to learning their lines. Veteran theater goers can certainly appreciate the complicated logistics of moving 23 actors on and off the stage, but all was performed without a hitch and nary a garbled line. The ebb and flow of the actors entering and exiting ran as smoothly as a ballet dance, culminating with the final scene when all the actors appear on stage wearing black, a remarkable visual and emotional display.

A note about the set designed and constructed by Jasper Lyons.  The stage resembles a theater in the round, surrounded on three sides by the audience.  Hanging from the stage’s backdrop were two sections of a fence constructed from scrap lumber and suspended between the sections was a dilapidated chair symbolizing the tortured Matthew Shepard. Up stage center was an open trunk containing the costumes that depicted the various characters of the play. As the actors changed roles they would dip into the trunk and change into their appropriate costumes. Down stage center was a large chair occupied by whatever character was most crucial at the moment. On either side of the stage was placed a stool where the actors sat while being interviewed.

But most impressive was the subject matter:  the tragic consequences of homophobia brought into stark reality. The courage of the actors to undertake such a controversial subject is to be greatly commended.
I did though have some trouble hearing all the lines. However, that could be that I my hearing is somewhat diminished.  I always exhort my students to remember the deaf old lady in the back row. I’m afraid I may have become that deaf old lady’s first cousin.

As with all other productions I have attended at Terra Linda High School, I left the theater with a sense of awe and pride.  How lucky the students are to have the opportunity to perform under the expert guidance of Christina Stroeh and how privileged is the community to have such a treasure in their midst.
2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Brilliantly put, Mr. North. TL is hugely deserved of this praise, they nailed this one and just about every other show ever put on by Christina and her students.

  2. Excellent review. The economy of descriptions re the set,actors. and characters still managed to get the play's impact across.

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