‘The Laramie Project’ at Front & Center Stage

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For Front & Center Stage’s first production, Director Steve Einhorn took on the Tectonic Theater Project’s The Laramie Project. Although they are a new theater company, this ensemble piece of documentary theater shows promise for this group of young and committed artists.

The cast of 'The Laramie Project.' Dave Warner/Route 37 Photography.
The cast of ‘The Laramie Project.’ Photo by  Dave Warner/Route 37 Photography.

The nine-person cast, populated almost entirely by college students, meshed together well. This ensemble evoked both the rural and the urban characters with precision, creating a discernable feel for each culture and subculture within this script. Considering the list of over sixty characters which are portrayed in this play, this is no small task. Einhorn’s direction complimented this as he presented his scenes with symmetry and harmony, providing an interesting juxtaposition to the chaos and uncertainty present in his source material. A play this abstract allows for a director to share his voice, and Einhorn let his be heard.

However, Einhorn did seem to have a bit of trouble with pacing. While the script itself is fairly long, this three hour show seemed to drag its feet as it lingered on each scene, almost as if it were straining for some extra but unearned poignancy. The show by no means should be “upbeat” in any sense of the word, though picking up the tempo would not take away from the respect for Matthew Shepard and the tragedy that surrounds him.

The ensemble had several standout performances: London Docherty’s appearances as the sponsoring drama professor were impressive as she provided contrast to herself as a housewife dismissive of the whole event. Although he might have been a bit heavy-handed, Alexander Burnett’s portrayal of a Catholic Priest unwilling to see a side other than his own was brutally honest in a quiet way, never shoving his bigotry down the audience’s throat. While I was not a huge fan of Zac Branciforte’s broad “dumb college bro” character, his portrayal of one of the accused was powerful and touching, maintaining the humanity of a person who committed inhuman acts.

Danielle Payne’s best moments were as the police officer worried that she might have contracted HIV from Matthew Shepard. Her tough persona seemed to be deeply entrenched into her character rather than some act she put on to save face.

Peter Moses built the emotive grounding for the climax of the play as he played the doctor, adeptly portraying his grief as he announced the death of Matthew Shepard.

Randi Chambers provided some subtle comic relief in nearly every scene she was in. Her half smile that punctuated her most impactful moments did not take away from the individuality of her characters, but added a sense of linearity between sequences throughout the show.

Performers Logan Beveridge and Max Ribler juggled dozens of characters, both showing people ranging from religious figures to members of the original theater company, making distinct choices as they went from person to person.

My favorite ensemble member was Nora Ogunleye. Not only did she portray the broadest range of ages, genders, races, and dispositions within the cast, she also hit her performances out of the park numerous times in terms of perfected tonality, whether she was portraying a bubbly Islamic college student or the grieving father of Matthew Shepard. No matter what type of character she was given, Ogunleye made it clear that she was the right woman for the job.

While each cast member showcased their talent in their own way, there were too many times when some of the cast members were prone to overly intensive acting, and over-the-top and hammy gestures. Unfortunately, this lead to many of the characters becoming caricatures.

The cast of 'The Laramie Project.' Photo by Dave Warner/Route 37 Photography.
The cast of ‘The Laramie Project.’ Photo by Dave Warner/Route 37 Photography.

Costumes designed by Einhorn were basic other than the occasional impact piece, such as the giant angel wings that covered the stage. Lighting Designer Meg Christenson had a clear understanding as to how to make an impression, creating a haunting and stark atmosphere with her subdued color palate and well placed silhouette effects.

Front & Center Stage’s insistence on doing honest and important works of theater with this much passion indicates a bright future for this theatre group. I look forward to seeing their future productions.

Running Time: 3 hours, with two intermissions.

The Laramie Project ended its run yesterday, August 10, 2014 at Front & Center Stage, performing at the W-3 Theatre at The Lorton Workhouse Arts Center – 9601 Ox Road, in Lorton, VA. For tickets, purchase them online. For more information, go to their website.