Last year one of the unanticipated hits of the Toronto theatre season didn't come from the ranks of the numerous theaters who regularly mount a season of plays. It emerged from a young company of professionals who took a chance on a co-op production of New York's Tectonic Theatre's "living newspaper" play, The Laramie Project. The results were strong reviews and a sold out run of 22 performances. Now the company is back in a larger venue (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre), with even better reviews and a broad-based audience that continues to support the play at the box office.
The Laramie Project might be subtitled The Short and Tragic Life of Matthew Shepard whose brutal slaying in 1998, in Laramie, Wyoming, awoke the conscience of America to the fact that old prejudices die hard. In fact, given the most recent manifestations of homophobia around the question of same-sex marriage in the U.S. it would seem that they don't die at all. According to accounts in the press, many people are still in agreement with the placard waving right-winger in the play who believes "God Hates Fags".
The Toronto premiere of The Laramie Project marked the debut of a new theatre ensemble named Studio 180 comprised in the main by alumni from the University of Waterloo Department of Drama. The remount -- this time properly funded by both the arts councils and private investors -- is again directed by Joel Greenberg who also heads up the theatre program at U of W (readers of Aisle Say will also know him as my critic-colleague in this space). The confidence of the cast and the general fluidity of the piece again speaks to the fact that much of the groundwork for building the talented ensemble was done under Greenberg's tutelage during their undergraduate experience.
With the exception of Jeff Miller who replaces Joanathan Goad (who has moved on to assuming lead roles in the upcoming season at the Stratford Festival), the cast, including Lesley Dowey, Deborah Drakeford, Marvin Hinz, Alison Lawrence, Mark McGrinder, Kimwun Perehinec and Dylan Roberts remains the same. With such a strong, uniform ensemble playing over 70 rules it is really impossible and probably inappropriate to single out "best" performances. Likewise, I think any attempt at "sore thumbing" is also a captious exercise.
The production values were also enhanced by fine technical support with an especially effective soundscape provided by Joey Morin.
The audience for the The Laramie Project now regularly includes group bookings from local high schools. It is to the play's credit that the didactic elements of the piece never interfere with the dramatic flow of the narrative so that one never has the feeling that this is "young people's theatre" with an obligatory moral at the end of the lesson plan. This is simply good theatre that just happens to fit nicely into the core curricula.
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