The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. By Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theatre. Directed by Chris Baldock. Mockingbird Theatre. Theatre 3, Repertory Lane, Acton. trybooking.com. To June 22.
The Laramie Project was originally written in 2000 as a response to the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. University student Shepard was gay and the murder in 1998 and its aftermath clearly continue to resonate.
Mockingbird Theatre has superbly taken on the difficult and sensitive piece of verbatim theatre that arose from the interviews and research done by Moises Kaufman and people from Tectonic Theatre. And the best of it is that Mockingbird is also giving audiences the opportunity to see the follow-up created when Kaufman and Tectonic returned for more research a decade later.
It's the look of the two pieces that impresses first. Director/designer Chris Baldock has chosen a bare stage with an upstage suggestion of sweeping cold blue skies and the fence where Shepard was left tied by his murderers to die.
The only set change between the two plays is that the fence loses some planks. Time has passed.
Downstage there are eight pale, pared-back wooden chairs, one for each of the eight cast members.
Those chairs become walls, circles, barriers, levels. Augmented by Joel Edmonson's careful lighting design there's no need for more in the way of set.
Performers Baldock, Andrea Close, Michael Cooper, Joel Horwood, Hayden Splitt, Liz St Clair Long, Meaghan Stewart and Karen Vickery appear in subdued ordinary clothes.
A few subtle changes of colour, pattern and style in the second play reinforce it is a decade later.
The style of acting is thoughtful, deliberate and measured. The teamwork and sharing of energy is mostly immaculate.
The weight of the central crime is never forgotten.
The first play is about the immediate aftermath: the effect upon the family, the friends, the community, the university, the effect upon the police, arguments about homosexuality, debates about hate crime.
This town ought to be able to find audiences prepared to set aside two nights for the full experience.
Ten years later in the second play memories are blurred. It was a murder over drugs, say some, not Shepard's sexuality.
Disturbing interviews with the two perpetrators, in prison for life, a barrier of chairs midstage separating them from the interviewer, contradict that.
But this play also documents steps forward in the matter of human rights and the law.
Shepard's father (Baldock) is an anguished and dignified presence in both plays.
But it is not until near the end of the second that Shepard's mother (Vickery) is finally given a strong, grieving voice and Shepard emerges much more as a person than a victim.
The first play has shown that it can stand alone. The second supports and expands it.
The work of this cast, crew and director is excellent.
This town ought to be able to find audiences prepared to set aside two nights for the full experience. People can do it for Harry Potter.