GUTENBERG! The Musical! (with two exclamation points!!)

GUTENBERG! The Musical! (Really)

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Quill Theatre

At: Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: October 12 – November 3, 2018, Thursdays-Saturdays @8:00pm & Sundays @2:00pm.

Ticket Prices: $32 Adults; $27 Seniors; $22 Students & RVATA Members (with ID)

Info: (804) 353-4241 or quilltheatre.org

 

Gutenberg! The Musical! is a play-within-a-play written by Anthony King and Scott Brown who present their comedic farce as a backer’s audition of an historical fiction about the German printer Johannes Gutenberg. Got that? Stay with me, because it doesn’t get any simpler.

Chris Hester and Paul S. Major play the authors Doug Simon and Bud Davenport, who are pitching their musical in hopes of finding someone to back them in a Broadway run. The show is hyped as big, splashy, and better than all others of its genre. But they have no actors, just a few props and a collection of baseball hats with the names of all the characters (e.g., Drunk #1, Drunk #2, Mother, Daughter, Gutenberg, Monk, Helvetica, Old Black Narrator). Doug and Bud switch hats as they rotate through the characters, sometimes stacking them for efficiency, or wearing one on their head and one on each hand to simulate crowd scenes. They string hats on a line, held up with the assistance of two audience members, and are even able to create a chorus line. Musical numbers from honkytonk to rock ‘n roll and romantic ballads are interspersed with puns, explanations of musical theater terminology, such as the definition of a metaphor, an example of a charm song, and a running gag recurring line involving dirty thatched roofing.

Early in the play the authors admit that their “research” consisted of a brief Google search, the result of which was that there is very little known about the life and times of Johann Gutenberg. So. . .they decided to just make up stuff, hence the historical fiction. Among the things they made up is the name of Gutenberg’s fictitious love interest, Helvetica and, apparently, the name of the town, Schlimer – a word that is suspiciously similar to schleimer, which loosely means “ass-kisser.” There is also a totally unrelated connection to the Holocaust, and several unkind and politically incorrect references to stupidity. Monk, the evil monk, calls Helvetica a “dumb German anti-Semite,” and Helvetica later sings that “history is paved with the hearts of the stupid.” Oh, and Gutenberg starts out as a winemaker, who handily turns his wine press into a printing press, quite forgetting to tell his lovely, love-truck assistant that she can stop tromping on her bucket of grapes.

Hester and Major, of necessity, remain on stage the entire time, and they are accompanied by Charlene (musical director Leilani Fenick). Both are enthusiastic, energetic, and affable, as Jan Guarino’s direction and choreography keep everything moving along at a fast clip. The eighteen or so people in the Sunday matinee audience seemed to have a great time. There was lots of laughter and applause, and a woman I chatted with during intermission made a point of telling me, completely unsolicited, that she was very happy that she could clearly hear and understand all the lyrics – something that is often a problem in musicals.

There’s just one major problem. Rather than humorous, or zany, I just found the whole thing silly. It tries too hard and, at least for me, there was no “aha” moment that made it all worthwhile. I don’t care that it isn’t big and splashy, that there are just two actors, no sets, and no laser lights, but, I’m sorry, Doug and Bud, Gutenberg! The Musical! isn’t better than Cats!!

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Photos from Quill Theatre’s Facebook page

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Paul S. Major and Chris Hester
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Chris Hester and Paul S. Davenport

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY: Location, Location, Location

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY: The Family We Choose Sometimes Chooses Us

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: October 13 – November 4, with previews on October 11 & 12 and talkbacks October 21 & 28

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

 

Written in 2014, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s multiple-award winning play, Between Riverside and Crazy, could have been ripped directly from current headlines about police shootings of black men in America, but it was actually inspired by the shooting of a black undercover officer by an off-duty white officer on a New York City subway train in 1994.

Add to a controversial shooting the additional components of illegal activities, drug and alcohol addiction, strained relationships, faltering faith, and unresolved grief, and you have the makings of a compelling drama. Walter “Pops” Washington, the cantankerous patriarch, is played by David Emerson Toney, an experienced actor who is an Assistant professor of Acting and Directing at VCU, but new to the Richmond stage.

Toney’s portrayal of Pops is a delicate balancing act of rage, hurt feelings, loss, love, and longing. At any given time, the audience is not sure which emotion is going to come bubbling up and erupt over Rich Mason’s set – the kitchen and living room (later bedroom) of what is described as a “pre-war apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City.” It’s important to know that this is an unusually spacious apartment, in a highly desirable neighborhood, that it is protected by long-standing rent control laws that prevent the landlord from pricing the coveted units out of the reach of (mostly elderly) residents. Pops starts drinking early in the morning and is so fond of the word m—–f—– that it appears that it’s even the preferred name for his dog.

After the death of his wife, Pops opened his home to his son Junior (Jerold E. Solomon) who shares more than a name with his father. It was interesting to see Solomon, who is often cast in the role of the father figure, placed in the position of prodigal son. The chemistry and conversations between father and son provided some of the most fascinating and revelatory moments in the entire play.

In addition to father and son, the household includes Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Juliana Caycedo) and Junior’s friend Oswaldo (Thony Mena). Lulu is a somewhat mysterious figure, simultaneously portrayed as a good girl and a “working girl.” She is genuinely caring, but there is something off about her, which is never really explained. Oswaldo is presented as a strong, sympathetic figure – a set-up for one of two completely shocking events in this two-act play. Individually both Lulu and Oswaldo share a special relationship with their host, and both call Pops “Dad.” I loved everything about both Mena and Caycedo, right down to her skin tight clothing and his Nuyorican accent.

Supporting characters included Bianca Bryan as Pop’s former partner, Detective Audrey O’Connor and Larry Cook as her fiancé, Lieutenant Caro.  They take turns playing good cop/bad cop and frequently confuse the difference between caring and coercion. I found the dynamic between Bryan and Cook interesting, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe Bryan’s tears when her character tried to play the victim; she just seemed too strong for that. Last but not least there was Maria Hendricks as the Church Lady, an almost mythic creature who appearance, long after we had been told to expect her, was a startling contrast to what I had been led – or lulled – to expect. Hendricks provided the second big shock of the evening, in a most delightful and humorous way, blending sex and spirituality with an unexpected cultural twist.

Between Riverside and Crazy reminds me of those commercials that point out that families are what we make them. There is nothing standard about this family, but there is something unsettlingly familiar about each member and the family unit they have created. The final scene raises more questions than it answers. “Does it have a happy ending?” asked the woman I met and chatted with pleasantly throughout the evening. “That depends,” I responded. It depends on what constitutes happiness for you. It depends on which questions are important to you, what you need answers for, and how much ambiguity you can live with. What is important to you, and what can you live without?

Rich Mason’s set manages to achieve an elaborate sense of spaciousness, but the aged and drab furnishings contrasted oddly, to my eye, with the tall elegant windows, and the kitchen appeared outdated, even though the exact time-frame was never clear. And maybe it was just me, but the family’s entrances and exits from both an upstage door and a downstage corner and their sudden appearances on the rooftop sometimes seemed to defy the laws of physics. Jesse Senechal included some subtle and appropriate effects in the sound design while Sarah Grady’s costuming was appropriate and consistent for each character – although I did wonder, if is it common for police officers to come to dinner in uniform.

Tawnya Pettiford-Wates has directed Between Riverside and Crazy with sensitivity and perception. The cast has responded with authenticity that defies perfection. The resulting experience makes for unforgettable, must-see theatre.

NOTE: Between Riverside and Crazy contains adult language and is recommended for viewers ages 16+.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Jason Collins Photography

 

 

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Jerold E. Solomon, Juliana Caycedo, Bianca Bryan, and David Emerson Toney
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Bianca Bryan, Larry Cook, and David Emerson Bryan
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David Emerson Toney. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
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Jerold E. Solomon and Juliana Caycedo

 

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David Emerson Toney and Maria Hendricks. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.
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Thony Mena and David Emerson Toney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIZZIE: An Axe Musical

LIZZIE:  The Musical

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

5th Wall Theatre

At: TheatreLAB The Basement, 300 E. Broad St. RVA 23219

Performances: October 11-November 3, 2018

Ticket Prices: $32 General Admission; $20 Students; $20 RVATA Cardholders

Info: (804) 359-2003 or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3613679

 

Lizzie Bordon took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. Who would ever think of turning the story of Lizzie Borden into a musical? Well, apparently the team of Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Steven Hewitt (music), Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner (lyrics), and Maner (book and additional music). The punk rock opera got its start as an experimental theater piece in 1990, and by 2013 had evolved into a two-act rock opera with an all-female cast and hard-driving (but thankfully not deafening) music.

Thanks to the opening number and finale, that old jump-rope rhyme will be stuck in my head for days, as will bits and pieces of this fascinatingly odd and weirdly satisfying piece of theater. Rachel Rose Gilmour is Lizzie Borden, while Rachel Marrs plays her sister Emma Borden, Anne Michelle Forbes takes the role of Lizzie’s friend Alice Russell, and Michaela Nicole fills the high-top sneakers of Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan, the Borden’s maid.  Pualani “Lani” Felling and Morgan Lynn Meekins both pull triple duty “Roadies” who sing with the onstage band and also act as stagehands, moving the microphone stands and trunks that serve as the only props; they are also the understudies for the four main characters.

The five-piece band, under the very capable direction of Starlet Knight, is not merely accompaniment, as the music is the driving force behind this entire concept, and what a concept it is! The story of the bloody murders of Lizzie Borden’s stepmother and her father have been the subject of so many tales – in literature, movies, an opera, a television series, a ballet – that it seems more legend than fact. This production seems to freely mix fact and fiction as well as to attempt to time travel, placing the events of 1892 into the modern era of punk rock. Alex Valentin’s costumes are a blend of Victorian couture, 19th century bordello, and punk rock. Vinnie Gonzalez’ set design looks like the backstage area of a rock concert, consisting of stacks of trunks, speakers, and microphone stands. The band and their instruments and the roadies occupy the upstage area, and the actors and roadies often strut and stride, sometimes confronting the audience up close.

Lizzie, the Musical creates a big feel in an intimate space and I could not imagine it in a larger space. It needs to be seen and heard and felt from up close. Rachel Rose Gilmour gives a dynamic performance, running through a range of emotions from rage to fear, from crying out in desperation to vulnerability. There are intimations of abuse, incest, and lesbian relationships. There is murder and mystery, and while in real life Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murders and lived out the rest of her life in the same town where the murders took place, Fall River, Massachusetts, there also seems to be a confession and a cover-up.

The entire cast is powerful, but in addition to Gilmour, I must mention Michaela Nicole. Not only does she give Bridget/Maggie a mysteriously strong attitude, but the woman can rock and roll with the best of them, and clearly makes this maid more than a supporting role. Marrs brings an edge to the sister, Emma and Forbes shows the friend Alice caught in the conflict between loyalty and truth.

If blood, gore, murder, mystery, strong women, and loud music with a head-banging beat appeal to you, you won’t go wrong with Lizzie, the Musical.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: 5th Wall Theatre

THE ABSOLUTE BRIGHTNESS OF LEONARD PELKEY: Who Dared to Be Different

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey: The Price of Being Different

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

Richmond Triangle Players

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: October 6-15, 2018

Ticket Prices: $10-20

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Sweet. It’s not a word one would normally attach to the story of a 14-year-old murder victim, but in the case of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey it fits.

This one-man show written and originally performed by James Lecesne is the simply and intimately told tale of a young boy who, when life served him lemons, made a huge bowl of punch and shared it with the entire town. Leonard, who was sent to live with his non-biological aunt (you know, the extended family kind of aunt) was unapologetically different with his green plaid capri pants and his rainbow colored platform sneakers, made by gluing layers of flip-flop soles to the bottoms of a pair of Converse sneakers.

Jeffrey Cole, under the careful and understated direction of Melissa Rayford, allows the story to unfold with sensitivity and even a bit of humor as he portrays nine different characters in a small Jersey shore town where being different will get you chased home from school with sticks – and, ultimately, tied up in fisherman’s knots, wrapped in a net, and dumped in a lake. Some of the most touching and revealing speeches are given by Leonard’s cousin Phoebe Hertle (16, going on 45); his drama teacher, the locally famous Buddy Howard; his aunt’s client, the “high-hair redhead” Marian Tochterman; and the old clockmaker, Otto, in whose shop Leonard seeks refuge from the neighborhood bullies. The story is largely narrated by Chuck DeSantis, the detective assigned to Leonard’s case. In a surprise ending, the detective’s life is touched maybe more than any other.

Perhaps because it was originally a young adult novel, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey lacks the rawness, the intensity of The Laramie Project. Leonard is running in tandem with The Laramie Project and uses the same set – stripped bare of the locational identifiers. In fact, Leonard requires only a single folding chair, a small work table, and an evidence box. The rest of the atmosphere is created by Michael Jarett’s subdued lighting and a rather agreeably layered sound design by Lucian Restivo, who also did the set.

Some of the characters seem more caricature than genuine. Marian, for example, bears more than a little resemblance to Alice from the 1970s sitcom of the same name – yes, the Alice, who with her own “high-hair” coined the phrase, “kiss my grits.”  Cole subtly varies the nuances of each character, changing his posture, adding a gesture or a tilt of the head, but it sometimes took a moment or a few words before I was certain which character he was portraying. He did not seem to have the lightning fast reflexes of Stevie Rice or Scott Wichmann – both of whom are currently appearing in The Laramie Project, but in the end, he delivered the story with a sensitivity, gentleness, and sense of wonder that left the audience with a feeling of comfort that did not excuse the horror of what happened, but somehow tinged it with a veneer of sweetness. This sweetness was, I think, more a reflection of The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey¸ of the character of that young man, and the lasting ways in which he touched those around him, than any attempt to downplay the very real dangers of homophobia and hate crimes.

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey runs about 75 minutes, with no intermission. I am glad I went, but before recommending it to others, I would caution that seeing both The Laramie Project and The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey might prove overwhelming to some. To paraphrase Leonard Pelkey’s friends – you might be doing too much.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Louise Ricks

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: Anthology & Thoughts

STARR FOSTER DANCE: Anthology

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: September 27-30, 2018; Thursday, Friday & Saturday @ 8PM; Sunday @2PM

Ticket Prices: $20-25 General Admission

Info: (804) 304-1523, starrfosterdance.org, or http://www.showclix.com

The final performance of Starr Foster Dance’s Richmond production of the Anthology program was special in that it marked the final performance of long-time company member and rehearsal assistant Jordan Livermon Glunt. (Glunt will be touring with the company, but this marked her last Richmond appearance.) After the final curtain, Glunt was showered with flowers from cast members and a standing ovation from an audience filled with family and friends.

The Anthology program included two new works by company artistic director Starrene Foster, Falling to Earth and Grudge. Falling to Earth has a quartet of dancers dressed in light clothing performing soft variations of falling, ending with arms raised. Set to the music of Murcof, (Mexican electronica artist Fernando Corona) the piece creates an other-worldly atmosphere that allows for multiple interpretations of the descending and suggestion of a return. Grudge, on the other hand, has an entirely different energy. It is aggressive and instead of the easy give and take between dancers, there is attitude, pushing and shoving, kicks and the sort of tension found in capoeira or a choreographed street fight. The music by the late French film composer Hugues Le Bars often has an urban edge that fuels this roughened sensibility.

An audience favorite was the program’s only solo, Garland (The Day the Sky Fell), created in memory of Robert Garland Gill and performed by Jordan Livermon Glunt. Wearing a black dress and dancing in a cone of light, with a wooden chair at the end as prop and partner, to an Arvo Part choir song, “Nun eile ich zu euch (Now I Hasten to You),” Glunt’s performance was sweetly evocative. At the end confetti falls around her, in memory and in celebration of life.

The program also included Waiting Room, a shadowy dance in red and black in which the play of light and shadow becomes both setting and character; and the mysteriously touching Apartment No. 9, which features six dancers connecting and reconnecting under a string of bare light bulbs with two chairs facing one another, giving the feel of an interrogation room. The program closed with The Space Between the Echo¸ a dance inspired by a work by local photographer Dennis Lieberman which features a mysterious and mechanized original score by Billy Curry.

There are several things that stand out about all of Foster’s works. I have often remarked that she prefers dim, eerie, evocative lighting that often obscures the dancer’s features. Foster also connects with interesting music that is often strikingly out of the ordinary, but always a perfect fit for the movement. Many works include original music composed for the dance. Finally, there is the humanity of her works. Weather humorous, aggressive, sweetly touching, or quirky and moody, the dancers always maintain an extra-sensory connection; they move as a unified organism that feels like family. The way they hold and slide over one another, often with a smaller dancer lifting a much taller or larger dancer, exudes a sense of safety and trust that makes you feel as if they want to do more than just entertain you, they want to tell a story that draws you into their world and connects us all.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes.

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Jordan Livermon Glunt
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Mattie Rogers, Jordan Liverman Glunt and Erick Hooten
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Jordan Liverman Glunt
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Mattie Rogers and Kelsey Gagnon

RICHMOND BALLET: A Celebration of 35 Years of Dance

RICHMOND BALLET: 35th Anniversary Celebration

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: September 28 & 29, 2018

Ticket Prices: Starting at $25

Info: (804) 344-0906 or richmondballet.com

The Richmond Ballet celebrated their 35th year as a professional dance company in high style. There were highlights from the past 35 years, choreography by the iconic George Balanchine, appearances by favorite dancers who have retired, acknowledgements of long-time partnerships, video memories from choreographers who have worked with the company, and confetti.

The first half of the program consisted of excerpts from various ballets and moved rather quickly. The evening opened with Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka¸ with Igor Antonov as the Ringmaster, softly cracking his oversized whip over the baby ballerinas. There were three groups of students from the School of Richmond Ballet – blue, green, and pink – 16 in each group, who danced adorably, ending in the formation of “35!”

Before intermission, we were treated to a retrospective that included Maggie Small and Fernando dancing the balcony pas de deux from Malcolm Burn’s Romeo & Juliet; a light-hearted Titania and Bottom pas de deux from William Soleau’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream danced by Sabrina Holland and Matthew Frain, with Elena Bello as the mischievous Puck; the first and second movements of Val Caniparoli’s contemporary and humorous Stolen Moments; and the playful, folk dance infused finale of Ma Cong’s Ershter Vals. There was also the duet from Jessica Lang’s To Familiar Spaces in Dream¸ performed by Lauren Fagone and Philip Skaggs; and the heartwarming Section IV of Stoner Winslett’s Windows, a work that speaks of hope and the future and ends with a group of dancers whirling around in a circle holding lighted globes. As the dancers peel off, they reveal two little students, a boy and a girl, dressed in white, representing the future. If the evening had ended right there, I would have been satisfied.

There was, however, a second act. George Balanchine’s Who Cares? Was set to 17 songs by George Gershwin (16 of which were listed on this program) and consists mostly of solos and duets that allow various company members to shine in light-hearted, quirky, and often sassy passages of movement that blend ballet and jazz. Elena Bello and Mate Szentes in “’S Wonderful,” Lauren Archer and Fernando Sabino in “The Man I Love,” Eri Nishihara in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” Maggie Small in “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis in “Who Cares?” and Sabrina Holland in “My One and Only” were personal favorites. The finale features the entire cast dancing to “I Got Rhythm,” played by the Richmond Symphony, under the direction of resident conductor Erin Freeman. It’s always a delight to attend the Richmond Ballet performances at the Carpenter Theatre, where we are promised the special treat of live music.

In addition to video memories shared by Malcolm Burn, William Soleau, Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong, Jessica Lang, and Stoner Winslett, at the top of the show, during her curtain talk, Winslett honored Charles Caldwell with the designation of Richmond Ballet Set Designer Emeritus, and Ron Matson with the honor of Richmond Ballet Conductor Emeritus. There was no proclamation or resolution by the Board of Trustees, but it was also Stoner Winslett’s special day – she nurtured the School of Richmond Ballet into a professional company that carries the designation The State Ballet of Virginia (so designated by then Governor Douglas Wilder in 1990) and has represented us well in New York (2005), London (2012), and China (2015).

 

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Sarah Ferguson

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Igor Antonov and dancers from The School of Richmond Ballet in ‘Circus Polka’ by Jerome Robbins.
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Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Malcolm Burn.
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Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Malcolm Burn.
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Sabrina Holland and Matthew Frain in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Soleau.
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Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis in ‘Ershter Vals’ by Ma Cong.
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Lauren Fagone and Phillip Skaggs in ‘To Familiar Spaces in Dream’ by Jessica Lang.
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Elena Bello and Trevor Davis in ‘Windows’ by Stoner Winslett.
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Richmond Ballet dancers in Who Cares? Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust.

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: A Community of Caring

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: The Magnitude of Hate

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis                                                                     

Richmond Triangle Players                                                                                              

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: September 26 – October 19, 2018

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project is based on the true events surrounding the 1998 beating and death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man, while he was a student at the University of Wyoming. The words of the play are the words of the people of Laramie, gathered by the authors over a series of interviews. Real people. Real issues. Real tears.

The beauty of the script lies in its unadorned simplicity. Eight actors portray about sixty different characters as they examine the story from the perspectives of the people of Laramie, students and faculty at the university, the media, and the personal experiences of the members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

Running nearly three hours with two intermissions, director Lucian Restivo has maintained a moderate pace that allows the characters to come across as authentic and feels almost like real time.  Multiple perspectives are presented, friend, foe, and undecided. From incident to trial, some points of view shift as people examine themselves and some are surprised at what they find inside.

The Laramie Project is set in a rustic space of wooden walls and shelves with a few chairs on multiple levels designed by Restivo, who also designed the sound, and with lighting by Michael Jarett that sometimes resembles sepia-toned photographs. The physical tone almost makes this play feel as if it is dragging the viewer back in time into the wild, wild west, although the events took place only twenty years ago. The more striking and unfortunate thing is that this sort of hate crime could have been stripped directly from the latest breaking news.

The excellent cast consists of Rachel Dilliplane, Annella Kaine, Amber Marie Martinez, Cole Metz, Jacqueline O’Connor, Stevie Rice, Adam Turck, and Scott Wichmann.  It would be difficult and unfair to speak of specific characters, as at any given time each of these versatile actors switches from one role to another, changing voice, accent, stance, and perhaps a shirt or hat. Scott Wichmann is often placed in the role of narrator, as project leader Kaufman, and some much needed humor is provided by O’Connor as a spunky citizen and Rice as an outrageous limousine driver.

The Laramie Project is difficult to watch because it is so real and because people involved in the incident are still alive. No details of the attack on Matthew Shepard are spared as the doctor and judge provide blow by blow details of the attack and its effects, leading to coma and eventually death. There is a section of documentary footage, and there are the incomprehensible protests by the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are known to show up to protest at the funerals of gay people. We get to hear the words of the two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson, as they are sentenced after their separate trials. Their images surround the audience in 43” x 43” oil pastel portraits by artist Michael Pierce.

The Laramie Project is an all-encompassing theatrical experience that requires a huge team effort. There are actors, a team of writers, a large creative team, community partnerships, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is dedicated to human rights advocacy. It’s hard to tell where the play stops and real life begins. But the tears. . .the tears are all real.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

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Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
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Scott Wichmann in just one of the many characters he inhabits in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”
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Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
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Annella Kaine (center in just one of the many characters she inhabits (along with Cole Metz, Stevie Rice and Amber Marie Martinez) in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”

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