By Christopher Fok
The Laramie Project is one of those perfect ensemble pieces, rooted in realism with the right amount of theatricality and verisimilitude, that if one just follows the script as written and play the obvious moments, you will definitely have a good performance.
The Young Co. graduation showcase of SRT did just that. The directorial hands of Daniel Jenkins and Natalie Wong were rarely seen except in the beginning and end, where there was the obvious show of filling the space with the transportation of chairs and clothes racks across the wooden pallets that served as an elevated playing space. This movement charged the stage with a kinetic thrum, backed by the wistful country melody of Laramie, Wyoming.
The set had a floating screen made of those same wooden pallets which showed picturesque scenes of the places in question, always giving us the context of each speech. Periodically, it also displayed typed messages regarding Matthew Shepard’s health – although I found the typewriter sound a bit annoying in the later portions.
The succeeding scenes had the actors sit across from one another, always looking on, listening to each other’s monologues – a directorial choice for sure – but one the audience was inclined to mimic without prompting, for the material of this show was highly engaging.
In terms of acting, standouts where Chin Rui Yuan as the blustering Rev. Fred Phelps and gum-sucking Aaron McKinney, whose stage presence was quite magnetic and chilling in his orange jumpsuit. Riley Huang as the empathetic Dr. Cantway who treats both the accused and the victim in rooms next to each other Clancy Jessica Ryan for her crystal voice and nuanced delivery of Sherry Johnson whose indignation over a dead police officer is overshadowed by the media coverage of Matthew Shepard.
Vignesh Singh whose clear energy and specific detailing of the event as Matt Galloway, had us hunting for details as we picked apart that crucial moment along with him, when Matthew Shepard disappears into the night. Dennis Sofian’s distinct characterisation of easy-going Doc O’ Conner and his powerful delivery as Dennis Shepard had me in tears as he spoke of mercy to his son’s murderer.
By the standing ovation by the end of the performance, there was no doubt that the text came at a timely moment in Singapore’s history. No matter, despite the number of older characters being played by the young cast, they acted wholeheartedly, holding back little in authentically portraying characters so far removed from our Asian island.
The contemporary text has been performed for the past 14 years in many countries and its successful performance here has shown just how it continues to resonate with audiences who encounter it. Just coming in a month after Pink Dot and the ensuing bigotry and homophobia, it articulates a deep-seated fear that we might have come to toe a threshold. But at the end of it, the play speaks of open-heartedness, forgiveness and even awe at the clear blue sky of Wyoming and the twinkling lights of Laramie sparkling in the distance.
I’d like to see The Young Co. tackle the subsequent follow-up to this play, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, if only to stretch them artistically a bit further and widen their range. The graduates of The Young Co. have bright futures ahead of them and I’m excited to see where their journeys will take them.