The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

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I went to see Red Stitch Theatre’s production of The Tectonic Theatre Group’s play The Laramie Project – 10 Years’ Later on Saturday night. It is an interesting thing, going to a cultural event in Inner-City Melbourne. I’m going to put it to you like this, and in so doing, possibly reveal myself as paranoid, but looking as I do (consult the photos), people treat me a certain way. If I were to describe it in my own terms, it is to say that I am a fit, physically-imposing, young white male. Most of the people at cultural events are either elderly, or, part of a small clique which (they think) makes them superior to people like me. More wealthy, but also, by inference, more intelligent and more ‘legitimate’. Of course, I don’t agree and probably look as if I may do them some kind of injury if they were to express it verbally. I believe this makes them uncomfortable as their prejudice turns in on itself, not unlike an ingrown hair. 

So there we were, standing in the foyer, my friend Dave and I. He’s a film critic, and an exceptionally well-read and watched person, which you’d expect from someone whose profession is watching, reading and writing. I actively seek the company of people like Dave, because they kind of condense world and cultural events and I can pick up what’s going on through the stream of a one-hour conversation. But anyhow, I digress. We filed into the auditorium and took our seats.

Full credit to Red Stitch; they seek to make a night at the theatre affordable. And, after just shelling out $150 for Bell Shakespeare’s Much Ado, I’m still walking lopsided from the blow to my wallet (not unlike a solid rip to the liver). To bring you up to speed: The Laramie Project was a play about the murder of Matthew Shepherd, a young, openly-gay man who was lured away from a bar by two men who tied him up against a fence and then viciously beat him to death with the butt of a gun.

The Tectonic Theatre Project is comprised of a group of thesps who travelled out to Laramie and conducted interviews with residents, academics, police and the killers themselves, and put together a play in which the group effectively depict each interview. Saturday nights’ production was the sequel, written ten years’ later as an exposition of howLaramiehas changed as a result of the killing and the international attention it drew.

The play has a fabulous, kinetic pace and, I guess, the closer you get to real people saying things they really mean, the greater force the dialogue will exert on its audience. That said, I’d struggle to describe it as any better than ‘good’. The reason for this is that, I believe, it panders to its audience’s prejudices and the Tectonic Players’ New York audience obviously has a lot in common with a Melbournian one.

I found the play presented its single Laramie cowboy as faceless, incommunicative and hostile; possibly because the interviewer/actor informed him that he was from ‘NY’; possibly because Matthew Shepherd was the subject. The other rural people represented were funny in a red-neck way. The academics are righteously fervent. The police are kind of like what I expect police to be; strangely blasted by the grim rigours of the radiant heat of grief and the gruesome violation of a human body. With the exception of the priest who attended to the killers, very few of the characters defy your expectations, and very few tell you anything you wouldn’t expect to hear out of the mouths of the right-thinking, left-leaning audience.

One of the most striking sequences was probably the ‘climax’, when one of the thesps travelled to the gaol where the principal killer, Aaron McKinney, was held. It was the play’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ moment, which was interesting because of its nature, rather than what it had to say (unfortunately, much like the rest of the piece). The great contention at the nucleus of the play is the way in which Shepherd’s murder, which had originally been described as a ‘hate crime’, has since been reconfigured by Laramie residents as a robbery gone bad. This was part of a tacit process by which some parts of the community wanted to make Shepherd’s murder into something which could happen anywhere, rather than the watermark of the virulent redneck prejudice which had become definitive of their town. 

The killer was vaguely interesting in the way all monsters in human dress are. His interview led me to believe that the crime was much less a ‘hate crime’ than a thrill-killing; the murderer being as seemingly aimless and defective as Henry Lee Lucas, a serial killer who aimlessly drifted around the United States, murdering people at random for decades. At the conclusion of the interview, McKinneyexpressed a desire to one day visit New York. “Yeah, NY’s pretty great,” the thesp assured him – and us.

 And there I sat in the darkness with the wankers, having my left-leaning, right-thinking opinions (which I keep wrapped up in my stereotypes) confirmed like a manicure, while the vast majority of Australian morons/bogans were off at the football – watching sport.

One Response to “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later”

  1. I dont know the play nor its’ subject matter, nevertheless I enjoy your writing, and the first and last paragraphs acted as decidedly interesting bookends to the body of the “work”. They encapsulated the whole issue of visual judgements we make regarding people we dont know, and fall into the pit of stereotyping.

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