Community Theatre at Woodbury (CTAW) couldn’t have planned the opening of The Laramie Project at a better time. Not only is this the 20th anniversary of the savage murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, but it was just announced that his ashes will now remain in the crypt at the Washington National Cathedral. This is a most fitting resting place for a young man who brought awareness to the world of the brutality of homosexual hate crimes.
Knowing that CTAW director Shannon-Courtney Denihan was personal friends with Shepard turned the opening night of the production not only into a special event, but into a beautiful tribute straight from the heart. Denihan’s set design, a deconstructed wooden fence works like a charm. Bill Geddes’ lighting is especially fine when it spreads a symbolic sky blue background between the broken pieces of fence. Surely, Shepard who had been tied to the fence after being pistol whipped and beaten badly, would have had that sky shining above him.
Having seen this play produced with only eight actors performing all the roles, it was surprising to find such a large cast at CTAW. It certainly reflects a more community-based production, but it also means more stage movement, more comings and goings, entrances and exits, lights down and lights up. In other words, there’s a lot of stage business going on here, which was avoided in other productions. It also extends the time of the production. Mind you, this is a long play to begin with, but the added time makes it a marathon production for the cast as well as the audience.
Written by Moises Kaufman, the play is a collaboration of the Tectonic Theatre Project, which took a year and a half to interview the people of Laramie, Wyo., regarding the Shepard murder. The interviewers wanted to know what kind of a town Laramie was, what the people in the town like were, and how and why Shepard was killed. The interview process was presented and measured in “moments” rather than scenes.
This is a true ensemble production, but several cast members stood out. Certainly Tom Denihan did a superior job in his multiple roles. So too, Maureen Denver whose poise and confidence on stage is a definite plus as are the performances of Jeff Savage and John Fabiani who added a spark to this large community production. Timothy DeRosa, Ashley Blackwell and Shannon Sniffin also stood out among the large cast. While most of the cast including some teen members performed well, several actors spoke so softly that they could not be heard. Add to this that there were many pauses, some intentional and some not. At one point, members of the cast sang “Amazing Grace.” They sang it well, but they overpowered the main speaker making it difficult to hear the lines spoken. An audience always deserves to hear the lines of a play.
Overall, this is a good production with some actors making their theater debuts and working with theater veterans who know their way on any stage. This play reminds people that we are all humans and we all have our differences. We all need to respect one another and respect life. Others in this ensemble include: Tony Benedetti, Mike Denihan, Timothy DeRosa, Erika Dorio, Michael Garvey, Samantha Gati-Tisi, Tom Mendicino, Teresa Moran, Ally Roche, Craig David Rosen, Vicki Sosbe, and Kylie Wolff.
The production plays through Oct. 21. Box office: 203-405-3855.
Joanne Greco Rochman was a founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]