Finally, new theatre! Okay, okay, I’ve already seen BIFURCATE ME and the Fools fundraiser this past week, but I’d already seen one at UNDERCURRENTS last year and the other wasn’t exactly a theatre show per se, so I was dutifully excited to scoot down to the SAW gallery last nite for something new, at least to me. Honestly, the new year is getting off to a rapid fire start compared to last, which is fantastic. My Winter ennui was about to turn savage.
But I digress…the SAW! Yes, there was a solid crowd of us there last evening, packing the classic underground venue for a highly anticipated night. A company I’d heretofore been unfamiliar with, the Red.Collective, was just about at the halfway point of their run of THE LARAMIE PROJECT. A verbatim piece originally created by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, the show is comprised of the words of Laramie, Wyoming residents culled from hundreds of interviews following the brutal murder in that town of Matthew Shephard, that became a flashpoint worldwide for anti-gay hatred. It’s heady subject matter, to be sure, and the play has no shortage of material to work with. It’s structured almost like a particularly grim episode of COLUMBO, with the murder and murderes clear from the outset, and our heroes (in this case, the theatre company themselves) putting the pieces together from the ground up.
The set by designer and director Emma Hooper Brooks was sparse and wide, echoing the play’s namesake locale (and boldly sacrificing several rows of potential customers by eliminating some precious seats in the cramped gallery, a nice art-over-commerce triumph) and giving her troupe some room to strut their stuff. And strut they did…I wasn’t familiar with the actors involved (well, one, but not as an Actor) but I’ll be keeping an eye out from now on. The six-strong Red.Collective gang took on dozens of roles throughout the long but never dull PROJECT, and each shone in her or his turn, and each voice helped flesh out the story turned media sensation, reminding us of the sleepy small town where it all happened.
Alain G.Chauvin for example, was excellent as the wise-voiced bartender who served Shephard his last drink, then turned positively eerie in a scene as unrepentant killer Aaron McKinney. Mina Delic turned in terrific work as Reggie Fluty, an officer who was unwittingly exposed to HIV from the crime scene, forgotten fallout from a senseless crime. Nick Fournier had several standout roles, most memorably charming limo driver Doc O’Connor (though his final appearance as grieving Father Dennis Shephard was just plain stunning). And Nick Surges was alternately endearing as local budding actor Jedediah Schultz, and wickedly vile as Shock-Jock ‘Reverend’ Fred Phelps himself. Caitlin McNamee was perhaps most memorable as chain-smoking Marge Murray, mother of previously mentioned officer Fluty, not to mention out Laramie resident Jonas Slonaker, spouting words of wisdom. And Laura Young impressed as lesbian schoolteacher Catherine Connolly, shaken to her core by the brutal attack. I could go on, and on (I’d kinda like to, actually). They tackled intense material, and handled it superbly. There was nary a flat note in the entire show. And yes, these are young actors, so not every accent was polished and what-not, blah blah blah. They hit it where it counted.
It’s a great show, filled with many amazing voices (ironically, the only major voice necessarily missing in the show is, of course, the most important one of all…Matthew Shephard himself), and the show structures itself very neatly. I was a little concerned about the choice to include the voices of the original troupe themselves in the play, tho I understood the choice. Only in one or two spots did it feel a little strained in that respect (although that’s a matter of opinion). Point is, this is an important work based on a small-town crime that echoed out across the planet, and it does a great job of getting across the reasons for that resonance. As Jonas Slonaker sagely brings to light, Laramie’s vaunted ‘Live and Let Live’ policy, proudly boasted by several kindly folk in the first half of the show, turns out to be just a thinly veiled ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’.
I’m happy to say the show has stuck with me, and I’m very much thinking of going again next week. And seats are limited, kids! So if you don’t want me to scoop your seat (the first week sold out), start planning your trip to the SAW right now. You really don’t want to miss the first great Ottawa show of 2012. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)