Review by Shelly Hannigan
“‘Well, you know homosexuality is a sin’ – she kept saying that – and I go, ‘Mom, I just played a murderer tonight. And you didn’t seem to have a problem with that…”, this is just one of the thought provoking quotes from Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project. The, then, third year students of the Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies undergraduate course took on this eye-opening and heartbreaking play, and did so spectacularly. Additionally, the students performed a second play, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, and together, the two productions are known as The Laramie Cycle.The first play focuses on the aftermath of the murder of 21-year-old student Matthew Sheppard in Laramie, Wyoming, who was kidnapped, tied up, beaten and left to die alone in the Wyoming prairie in 1998, simply for being gay. Kaufman and additional members of the Tectonic Theater Project travelled to Laramie six times over the course of a year and a half, during the trial of the two men accused of the murder, in order to conduct interviews with the people of the town. These interviews, along with the journals the members of the Tectonic Theater Project kept during this time, which expressed their experiences during this time, allowed for an extremely interesting and in-depth insight into this tragedy. The second play involved many of the same members returning to Laramie 10 years after the murder and trials in order to see the evolvement of people’s attitudes towards the murder.
For the, now final year, Theatre and Drama students, this was their first public performance as part of their degree. Many of the students have been involved in performances both within and outside the college, many involved in the Cork Institute of Technology Musical Society’s productions of Into the Woods, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Carrie. One student, Emma Willis, was involved in Patrick Ryan’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, appearing as Robin O’Reily in the 2014 film. Willis and her fellow classmates, Tommy Harris and James De Burca, also appeared in the recent production of Juno and the Paycock in the Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork. Furthermore, Willis, De Burca and Harris starred alongside fellow classmates Ritchie Fitzgerald, Joy Mulcahy and Orla Horgan in their respective one-person shows this year. This college production of The Laramie Project gave a unique opportunity for people to see the future of Irish theatre at its very beginning.
The small cast, who portrayed almost 60 characters, carried out the play flawlessly, with all cast members, under Joseph C. Walsh’s direction, portraying perfect American accents. The difficulty with a cast of 18 playing almost 60 characters is certainly that it can get quite confusing, but these students more than succeeded in making the characters clear through the many costume alterations, which were carried out impeccably, and also through the gestures used to identify each character, which were vital in the continuity of the piece in order for the audience to be able to identify which character each actor would be portraying.
The performance left a chill in the heart and down to each audience members bones, the shock, horror and pain the small community felt at what had been done to this young man was portrayed by these young actors wonderfully, stunning the entire audience into silence and tears on more than one occasion. It is oftentimes difficult to lose oneself in theatre, in particular a performance where each cast member is portraying more than one character, but this cast drew each individual in and made us feel the torment young Matthew Shepard went through and the devastation left for this community to rebuild. It was clear to see that this performance was heartfelt and true, there was passion within this young group and they clearly love what they are doing, they are simply an inspiration to us all and an absolute joy to watch. Although the acting was superb throughout both performances, the first play was easier to engage with and certainly had far more of a shock factor, ultimately causing it to be more enjoyable, eye-opening and engaging. If there is ever a production of The Laramie Cycle, or if any of these promising actors are performing near you then without a doubt, I encourage you to go.