Entertainment Geelong Review

The Laramie Project

directed by Zina Carman for Torquay Theatre Troupe, Price St Theatre, May 15, 2017.
Just before the doors opened on this play’s preview night, first-time TTT director Zina Carman announced to the sherry-sipping foyer patrons that the company’s lighting computer had crashed and there would be a short delay while her techs rigged up some temporary lighting.
That delay was some five minutes, and the temporary lighting turned out to be a white stage wash effect that remained unchanged throughout the play. In the event, this perfectly suited the minimalist set, which comprised black drapes, a few mismatched chairs, a hatstand and some assorted-sized palettes overflowing the stage space.
This simple arrangement, coupled with two off-stage screens showing explanatory footage, reduced distractions and gave elements of authenticity to the action. It also allowed the audience’s focus to move among the play’s dozen actors as they took 64 different roles in explaining how a horrific murder in a small American mid-western town blew to national prominence in the late 1990s, changing lives and ultimately, their society.
It made for a huge task of theatrical concentration, and if the actors had been unsettled by that opening delay and changed lighting focus, they certainly didn’t show it. Together, they uniformly presented one of the most disciplined, powerful, integrated performances to have graced our stages for many years. Their multiple character changes, achieved by donning hats and coats then altering stance, attitude and accent was exemplary. It allowed the action to unfold with seamless clarity.  Their disciplined choreography around that compact space was, simply,  faultless.
And the result was a play of compelling power and theatrical purity.
Such was the acting talent involved that this reviewer is nominating eight of the 12 actors for our VO awards  – and there could have been more. The real difficulty was choosing who should be in which category, for ‘best actor’ or ‘best support’ in such a high quality assembly.
However, nominated for Best Actor are Michael Baker, for his astonishing range of skills that brought nine very different, all-believable characters to the stage and Fred Preston for his six parts that ranged from a police sergeant struggling to keep an open mind to an elderly gay farmer resigned to his lot.
The play’s best female actor noms went to TTT first -timer Sindi Renee, whose five different characters were individually different, but uniformly sincere – and the play’s producer, Terry Roseburgh, who took to the stage only after illness had caused another actor’s withdrawal, and whose six characters included the play’s pivotal narrator.
Nominated for best support female were Kathryn O’Neill and Cat Crowe, both new to TTT, both highly experienced elsewhere and each fitting into the play’s format with exemplary acting skills. The best support male actor noms went to Lachie Vivian-Taylor and Glen Barton, each of whose performances could have easily seen them on the best actor list.
Behind those eight outstanding performances were four more of high quality, from Carleen Thoernberg, whose quartet of parts ranged from heroic policeman to sympathetic waitress and Michael Lambkin, who filled three authoritarian parts with assurance; while Dianne  Buttigieg and Rob Pow took the remaining support parts with studied discipline.
My advice for our region’s playgoers is to find a way to see Torquay’s Laramie Project – it is powerful, compelling – a piece of outstanding theatre.
And to director Zina – please keep that plain lighting plan. It worked perfectly.
Oh.. and TTT, you might want to keep November 26 date clear..

Colin Mockett

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