Aged Perfectly [by Matt Baker]
How do you measure change? This is one of the questions that drove the Tectonic Theater Project to revisit the town of Laramie, Wyoming, ten years after their incredibly successful theatrical project. It is an important question, especially regarding the content of the play, and after seeing Alacrity Productions and The Moving Theatre Company’s version of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later I am not only relieved, but also grateful, that this play has been put in the hands of such dedicated practitioners.
Scripted entirely verbatim from interviews as per the original, I am impressed at TTP’s ability to construct a sound narrative with very little need for their own comments to direct the story. Just when the play feels that it is going to be nothing more than a series of social commentaries, it changes pace with the introduction of Matthew Shepherd’s father (Shadon Meredith). Later, when the play begins to feel that it is becoming a series of legislative reports, we are introduced to the men responsible for Matt’s death.
The cast of four men (Meredith, Simon Kevin Leary, Martyn Wood, and Leon Wadham) and four women (Sophie Hambleton, Renee Lyons, Josephine Stewart Tewhiu, and Sophie Roberts) work with a cohesion not necessarily granted to all ensembles. Together, they portray over forty characters; each having one or two whose presence within the play is fundamentally weighted. The entire cast demonstrates their considerable versatility, with vocal and physical nuances that bring each of their roles, no matter how small (occasionally one or two lines), to a full and rich life on stage. It is the creation of this depth that I believe is the underlying poignancy of this play. These are real people. These are real words.
For certain actors (particularly character actors), the ability to transform from one character to another comes naturally, however, this does not mean that the ease with which they do so is any less laudable. This is the case here – yet I would not call any of these actors characters actors, due to their individual ability to bring the emotional depth that is required at certain points in the play.I hesitate to elevate any one of them above the rest, since not one fell below the bar that was set (and it is inarguably an ensemble piece), however, ‘notable moments’ included Wadham’s Russel Henderson, Woods’ John Dorst, Meredith’s Moises Kaufman, and Robert’s throughout.
Director Katharine McGill has orchestrated her cast with absolute precision.The simplicity of the scenes allows for not only the words to work for themselves, but for the actors to work for the audience, feeding strong points of view and subsequently generating undercurrents of conflict that is otherwise absent. This simplicity is reflected in the minimalism of the set, two large flats, which mirror the seating blocks and are adorned with chairs, tables, clothes, and the odd prop. It is with these elements that the cast executes a series of substantial scene changes with balletic fluidity and misdirection that prevents distraction. At certain points the comedy (be it from the actors’ portrayals or the words themselves) was laugh out loud funny, at others, the pathos was tear inducing, and at none, was my attention lost.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the lighting and sound (Ashlyn Smith and Matt Eller respectively). While particular scenes were lit with stark white or blue mood lighting (accurately representing the respective moods), the general use of multi-coloured lamps which lit up with unprovoked abruptness did little to enhance the stage atmosphere, and their continued use was quite distracting. Similarly, while one or two of the soundscapes implemented in the beginning and end of the show give literal undertones, the others are often jarring to the flow of the play.
Art imitates life, and it was with this in mind that I read the programme notes; “…a collective of professionally trained theatre artists brought together by the desire to make work that focuses on the voice of the community…to ask social and culturally relevant questions of its audience in order to spark debate and further questioning.” There are two unmistakably relevant points to this play that resonant in New Zealand right now– in fact, on this very day. Though one shouldn’t expect every play to be verbatim or based on a specific event in order to imitate social and cultural goings on, one cannot deny that The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later epitomises the aim of theatre. It continues to ask questions. That, and it’s a sequel.
The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is presented by Alacrity Productions and The Moving Theatre Company and plays at The Basement Theatre until 8 September. For details see iTicket.