Saturday, June 22, 2019


The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.

Written by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Company. Directed by Chris Baldock. Mockingbird Theatre. Theatre 3. June 6-22 2019

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The cast of Mockingbird Theatre's production of
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later
Ten years have passed since the brutal 1998 murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard and Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theatre return to Laramie to conduct interviews with the people to gauge their reactions to the crime that shook their town.

Mockingbird Theatre’s outstanding production of The Laramie Project  sets high expectation for its sequel, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. The sheer professionalism of the production is undisputedly as  fine as ever. The cast is the same as is the design. However, the thrust of the play’s effect is different. In The Laramie Project, the crime immediately galvanizes focus and attention. We sit as participants in human response ans driven by emotional reaction to the shocking details of Shepard’s murder.

In 2008, Tectonic Theatre returns to discover what has changed since the murder. We are surprised that the town’s earlier acceptance of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson’s hatred of gays as a contributing factor is largely denied, preferring to accept that this was a drug fuelled robbery that went terribly wrong. Tectonic Theatre face a town’s evasion and refusal on the whole to be interviewed a second time, preferring to” let the boy go” as one townsperson says. As a result, Act One concerns itself with the failure to acknowledge the need to legislate against hate crime. As a result the emotional impact of The Laramie Project appears to be ameliorated by the debate and polemic of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Some editing would have heightened the dramatic tension of the first act, before shifting the audience’s attention to the issue of justice once again.

It is not until the Wyoming Legislature is compelled to consider a bill defining marriage as between a man and a woman that the issue of gay rights and hate crime prevention is brought to the surface and forced to a vote. In Act Two Tectonic Theatre introduces interviews with Henderson and McKinney, both played with riveting natural conviction by Hayden Splitt and unobtrusively  interviewed by members of the company, played by Michael Cooper and Joel Horwood. The real tragedy of this horrific event becomes startlingly real in the interviews with the perpetrators and profoundly moving in the interview between Moises Kaufman (Chris Baldock) and Shepard’s mother, Judy (Karen Vickery. Gay Laramie university lecturer, Catherine Connolly (Andrea Close) furthers the cause when elected to the Legislature and is aided by Republican members in defeating the prejudicial Marriage Bill.  It is a reminder that Matthew Shepard’s case is an human issue. As Shepard’s lesbian friend Romaine Patterson (Meaghan Stewart) comments at the close of the play, Matthew Shepard, the icon of the anti hate crime movement, must not be confused with her friend Matt. The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later depict human tragedy, where Nature, according to McKinney, trumps nurture and a man’s death has a profound effect on other people’s lives.

It is a struggle that ended in hope when Barack Obama signed the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act., a bill that may never have been signed had it not been for the theatre production created by Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theatre or the efforts of Katherine Connolly and the Republicans who voted down the Marriage Bill in the Wyoming Legislature. Matthew Shepard’s death was a futile, cruel and bestial act, but from that dark time in Laramie hope has triumphed.

Mockingbird’ Theatre’s production of The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later  under the direction of Chris Baldock and featuring a superb cast and production team assumes the status of a state theatre company. Production, worthy of appearing on any professional stage in the company.  Sadly, Canberra does not have a state theatre company, and it is time again to support and  to invest in the excellent work of a local company such as Mockingbird Theatre.