By Marissa Cohen
This past fall, members of CRN’s Sock ‘n’ Buskin theater company put on three performances of Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theater Project’s The Laramie Project. This play is based on various interviews the members of this group conducted with the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, regarding Matthew Shepard and his untimely death. The play is also unique in that it involves an audience talk-back session at the end of the performance.
While some people may have doubted that this talented group of high schoolers could pull off a show of such serious nature, this production proves once again how incredible the actors, directors, and crew members of this school are.
Starting with the direction, Miranda Leiggi and Chase Taber were able to bring out the humanity of all these characters, reminding the audience that the events of the play are real, and not just something writers made up. In the Friday night talk-back event, Taber mentioned how important it was that each actor portrayed their roles as people, not just lines from a script. The way the two directors staged everything showed just that.
Regarding the acting, every member of the cast for this show was truly outstanding. There was only a twelve person cast in this production, but each cast member had up to 9 or 10 characters to portray, each one vastly different than the others.
Each actor gave a very realistic performance, and it was clear how much time and effort they had put into portraying these people as accurately as possible.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments of the show was Marc Lubman’s monologue at the end of act two as Matthew’s father, when he decides whether or not to wish for Shepard’s killer, Aaron Kinney, to get the death sentence.
A few other outstanding moments were Eric Gracey’s portrayal of Jonas Slonakar, another openly gay man in Laramie. The end of act one, when various actors such as Max Ondik and Maddie Wray describe what it was like being some of the first people to see Shepard at the fence, also stood out in the story.
Additionally, Olivia Shea and Paige Majewski’s ability to balance so many characters in a short period of time was unbelievable, and two of Mason Olhavsky’s roles as Aaron Kinney and Matt Galloway showed how dynamic of an actor he is.
While it’s possible to write pages on how great this entire cast is, the actors are not the only people in the production worth highlighting.
Every part of the crew, from lighting to set to projections, had a powerful impact on how the message of Matthew’s story was portrayed. Nikolaj Folmer, in charge of lighting design, seemed to use different lighting for scenes that were and weren’t part of the chronological story. This effect helped the audience differentiate between Matthew’s story and the scenes that showcased peoples’ thoughts and reactions to what had happened.
The set, which was designed by David Sullivan and Wren Workman, was fairly simple, which worked extremely well for the play. The design emphasized even more that this is a true story. There shouldn’t be a complex set, but one that’s representative of Laramie itself, something that this set portrayed. The projections on the screen behind the set, such as newspaper articles and outdoor scenery, were another genius idea that added another level to each scene.
The story told through The Laramie Project is an extremely important one. While the horrendous hate crimes that the LGBTQ+ community has always been subject to are a difficult topic for most, it was inspiring to see a group of high schoolers take this issue on.
Every aspect of this play was truly moving, from the direction and acting to those working behind the scenes. If this play inspired you and you would like to learn more about Matthew’s story and what you can do to help the LGBTQ+ community, check out the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which was created by his family to raise political and social awareness for people of all genders and sexualities.