When: Tuesday, 28 August - Saturday, 8 September
Where: Basement, Greys Avenue, auckland
How much: $16 - $20
"What did we as a society do to teach you that?"
It's a memorable and thought-provoking line. It could refer to a multitude of situations but is one which applies to the two men convicted of killing Michael Shepard in an apparent hate crime in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The question is posed by Father Roger, played by Shadon Meredith, who gets all the best lines not because a writer decided it would be so but because he happens to be a highly articulate and insightful priest.
New York based Tectonic Theatre Company were so intrigued by the impact of the high profile murder on the community that they travelled there, interviewed members of the local community, media, police, friends and family and then transformed the transcripts into a verbatim play. Ten years later they went back to follow up on the event and find out what, if anything, had changed. New Zealand director Kate McGill of Alacrity Productions, who worked on the original production, secured exclusive rights to perform it locally and teamed up with Moving Theatre Company to bring Aucklanders the resulting epilogue.
The set is sparse, allowing space for the eight actors who each play numerous community members to enter and exit the centre of the stage with fluidity. On both sides black wall flats are adorned with white chairs and a mish mash of coats, shirts, hats and hoodies, this odd collection seeming to mirror the eclectic mix of local inhabitants we encounter. At first the swiftness of character changes is a bit bewildering but many of the personalities return, enabling you to slowly build up a picture of the differing perspectives and issues central to the play.
It's a young and spirited cast who all do an excellent job at conveying the humour, compassion, sadness, regret and most of all the humanity of a rich variety of personalities. Of the actors, special mention would have to go to Leon Wadham (Tribes) for playing, Russell Henderson, one of the convicted killers with such dignity and gentle resignation. It is most chilling to hear both Wadham and Simon Kevin Leary, who plays the other criminal, Aaron McKinney, utter the words spoken by the actual men themselves.
Whether you decide it was a hate crime or a drug-fuelled robbery depends on who you listen to but for those who believe it was, they are not willing to let Matthew's life have been taken in vain and actively campaign for equal rights in terms of gay marriage and equality - yes that's right, plenty to muse on here from a New Zealand perspective.
Laramie Project: 10 Years Later provides rare access to a community rocked by tragedy. It is an exciting, deeply moving and relevant piece of verbatim theatre.
You can read our interview here with director Kate McGill and actress Sophie Hambleton.