Monday, October 15, 2007

Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival

Upstart Performing Ensemble's Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival got off to a strong start last week with "The Laramie Project" - a moving, reader's-theater production of this documentary about Matthew Shepard's murder and its aftermath.

The play was created by Mois├ęs Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, based on documents and interviews with citizens of Laramie in the year after the brutal crime. It's a journalistic treatment - I wished Kaufman had employed an actual journalist to edit out some self-indulgent passages - that builds its power through the accretion of details, climaxing with the moving statement by Matthew Shepard's father, Dennis, at the trial. The result is a vivid and thought-provoking picture of Laramie and of the crime.

The cast - Tony Babin, Sue Bachman, Mary Maxine Fortner, Sam Gleason, Millie Harrison, Ryan Hart, Dede Iozzi, John Iozzi, Kari McPherson, Jonathan Sargent, Barbara Summerville, and William Willhide - portrayed some 60 characters. The characterizations were always clear and committed, and there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie among the actors that gave the impression you were watching a family instead of a cast. (I have no idea how Babin does it, but this is something he often achieves with his casts.)

The Smokebrush Foundation deserves kudos for making its space available for the festival - but be forewarned that it's only adequate for theater, with folding chairs, minimal lighting and boomy acoustics. The occasional train was appropriate to a play set in Laramie, but may be distracting in the other festival plays. Nevertheless, no community can have too much good theater, regardless of the setting.

The festival continues this week with "The Normal Heart," a powerful drama about the early days of AIDS in New York City. It concludes Oct. 25-27 with "The Amazing Amazon All-Stars," a musical about a lesbian softball team. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $10; call 636-5089 for more information.

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