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Laramie Project and 10 Years Later: Most important productions this year

The Cast of The Laramie Project and 10 Years Later
The Cast of The Laramie Project and 10 Years LaterKirk Tuck

The Laramie Project and 10 Years Later

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Laramie Project

March 21st – May 12th

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 Minutes with two intermissions

Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

April 18th – May 13th

Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

For more information and tickets, visit: zachtheatre.org

When Laramie Project hit the stage of Zach Theatre a few years back, it became an absolute sensation, winning heavy acclaim and numerous awards while striking an emotional chord with audiences of all ages. Audiences who missed it the first time, or who want to visit the fascinating events of Lamarie, Wyoming again, can experience it as Laramie Project hits theatres once again, and this time, you can see the extended version, complete with the sequel, Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, to get the full story.

The story is a simple, and relatively well known one. In 1998, a young man by the name of Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence post just outside of Laramie Wyoming and left to die. The event became a national sensation, and started a wave of national attention towards hate crime legislation, but it left the town of Laramie in a very difficult situation. How, as a town, do you ever shake the stigma of such a horrifying event? It is this question which the fine folks of Tectonic Theatre Project wished to explore when they first visited Laramie to create what would become The Laramie Project. A unique piece of theatre, The Laramie Project takes the interviews performed by the original cast members of Tectonic Theatre and turns them into a series of vignettes, creating a post-modernist experience that blurs the lines between reality and the stage, offering an eye-opening look into a town and its people.

The second piece, Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, takes a look at the town on the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death, and finds the town changed in many ways. While the first play focuses on how the event changed the town, Ten Years Later seems to focus more on how it changed society itself. There are many more references to gay rights and hate crime legislation, and more a focus as a whole on how homosexuals are treated in both Laramie and the world as a whole. We also find that a wave of nay-sayers has joined the bunch, who believe the horrifying death of Matthew Shepard was nothing more than a drug deal gone by or a theft. It makes for a much more complex watch, but what it gains in content, it sadly loses in emotional punch, but it's still a wonderful piece of theatre, and a great companion and epilogue to the first play.

Both productions feature most of the original cast of the 2002 production, and a solid cast it is. Featuring some of the greatest names in Austin theatre, these actors are able to transform into several different people at the drop of a hat, while at the same time never drifting too far into the realm of disbelief. They are able to keep a sense of verisamilitude almost the entire time, never deviating from the reality of the world. Sure, there are a few cracks in the veneer from time to time, but they're few and far between.

Though the entire cast gives commedable performances, there are a handful of actors who really elevate themselves to an amazing level. Perhaps the most impressive of these is Jaston Williams,who really stings directly to the heart as his various characters. Many people may know Jaston Williams as one half of the Tuna, Texas gang, but here he shows exceptional range as he plays several different people in Laramie, including the town's only gay man and the town's sheriff, digging into the heart of each character to bring out something true. Also showing definite skill is Harvey Guion, who adds some well needed humor in his performances as the local limo driver and the owner of the local bar. He has a definite skill and timing for comedy, and helps to lighten the mood in even the play's darkest moments, without ever seeming hokey or out of place. This doesn't mean, however, that he doesn't know when to play the role straight, as he has many emotional moments. In fact, he brings about one of the play's most emotional moments, as he gives a heartfelt and heart-wrenching monologue as Denis Shepard, Matthew Shepard's father, that explains just what these two men have done to his son.

I could sit here and point out every mistake made in the productions, each moment of missed beat or off-putting moment of misplaced humor, but in the end, none of it matters. When you're standing there at plays end, standing and looking over the crowd, candles in hands, tears in their eyes, you see that this play is above all that. The Laramie Project is the most powerful and important play to hit Austin stages this year, and perhaps in the last few years, and is one experience that every person, not just theatre fan, should make it a point to take. Be sure to grab your tickets now, for it may be another ten years before you see a play this moving.

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