An ambitious and thought-provoking contemporary classic comes to the Valley Theater Department.
By Asher Miles, Staff Writer
Audience members at “The Laramie Project,” directed by Matthew McCray, experienced a befuddlement of comedy within a tragedy. Bizarre transitions, incongruous acting choices and a lack of a theater untethered the audience from the documentary-theater masterpiece.
Through the thought-provoking three-act play enveloping the premeditated 1998 murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard and the mixed response of his conservative Wyoming community, an ambitious attempt was made by the 14-person ensemble. "The Laramie Project” details a complex compilation of interviews conducted by Moisés Kaufman that investigates American attitudes about violence towards the LGBTQIA+ community and the difference between tolerance and acceptance.
“We need to move away from tolerance and towards acceptance, because you don’t tolerate people, you accept them. You tolerate a bad hair day,” Matthew’s mother, Judy, famously said on her tours raising awareness of her son’s murder.
Due to construction delays, director McCray was forced to produce the show on the second floor of the 51-year-old building. While many can find faults in some of the green actors’ bold mistakes, shame on McCray for allowing the gaffes of the production to befuddle the weight of the histrionic masterpiece.
The immersive theatrical experience started in the courtyard and traveled through hallways and classrooms of the second floor. Actors missed their footing on stage boxes, patrons sat in the 54-degree makeshift theater and the playbill was only available digitally but electronic devices were banned during the play.
Valley’s underpowered, yet immersive, rendition of Kaufman’s documentary-play fell flat on a myriad of theatrical beats. Most notably, when the audience members were told details of Shepard’s torture, the Backstreet Boy’s 97’ hit “Everybody” blared on the speakers as actors danced and escorted the audience to the new location.
Bizarre and incongruous theater transitions aside, gut-wrenching performances from Sarah Grant, Sophie Haaland and Chevy Knight carried the three-hour show hosted in the transformed Campus Center.
Another outstanding moment took place in the northwest hallway as the audience members crowded together. A riveting scene of a hiker discovering Matthew’s beaten body culminated with impressive sound design, acting, and bold choices. The narration was palpable, tugging on all the heartstrings of the audience members.
Yet, much of the actor’s hard work to cultivate heartfelt emotions about a tragedy comes crashing down, during the intermission.
Certain actors were directed to fill the break with off-color ramble and out-of-character jokes that failed to reflect the somber tone of the piece, effectively removing the suspension of disbelief commonly found in the theater. Instead of the audience taking a moment to ruminate with the somber play, actors took the intermission and made caricatures of real people to try and make the audience laugh.
Better luck next time Valley Theatre Department.