News Column

'Laramie' looks at tragedy a decade later

October 10, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 10--In 2006, Eventide Arts took local theatergoers to Laramie, Wyo., the scene of what many consider one of the most infamous hate crimes in America. And now Eventide is going back.

Laramie was where Matthew Sheppard, a gay college student, was robbed and beaten to death after being tied to a fence post on the outskirts of town. "The Laramie Project," created by Tectonic Theater Project, explored what happened and how residents there viewed and felt about the crime.

Tectonic members returned to the scene 10 years later, and, to mark the 15th anniversary of Shepard's death, Eventide Arts is presenting what Tectonic found in that town in its production of "The Laramie Project, 10 Years Later."

The sequel, according to a press release, has eight actors playing more than 60 residents of Laramie who "report on their differing views of the murder and what they think really happened" -- whether it was a hate crime or robbery gone wrong by two young men who are now both imprisoned for life.

The two Laramie plays have become among the most-produced shows in the country, but Eventide has a unique feature to its show: Actor/musician Michael Webber of Cotuit has worked with director Toby Wilson to create an original score for the play.

Webber, a self-taught flute player, has chosen and written music to enhance dialogue, establish mood and mark particular characters, according to the release. "You feel this creative process come over you and when I'm in the Zone, I might stay up until 4 a.m. because I don't want to stop."

Webber is using flute, harmonica, guitar (lent by his son) and the "Garage Band" computer program to create different effects, and his soundtrack is influenced by his love of Celtic music. Webber has similarly worked with Wilson on a Shakespeare play, and the director says in the release that the music adds to what he's hoping to accomplish with this production.

"I want this to be a theatrical experience -- not a documentary -- and have people drawn into it," he says. The overarching theme of "Laramie" is "an incredible topic right now. It's really in the moment. It's an absolutely timeless show."

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Zoe Lewis is bringing back her musical "Across the Pond" for Women's Week at Provincetown Theater. After sell-out shows in June, the musical that features a quirky assortment of passengers on a Heathrow-JFK flight contemplating the notion of home will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Oct. 19, with an extra 5 p.m. show Oct. 19 at the theater, 238 Bradford St. Tickets: $26 ("economy seats") and $30 ("first class"). Reservations: 508-487-7487 or www.provincetowntheater.org.

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Greta Ribb has a fascination with small-town diners and Americana and her attention to details, as well as some parts of her own memorabilia collection, will be on display as the 1950s diner setting for the Chatham Drama Guild production of William Inge's "Bus Stop."

The play is sometimes presented as a romantic comedy, in the vein of the 1956 Marilyn Monroe film. But Ribb -- who is producer, set dresser and plays a waitress -- is helping director Marianna Page Glidden return the script to its roots in realism by creating a setting where you almost want to sit down and order a cup of coffee.

The play is set during a snowstorm when a group of bus passengers need to take shelter in a dingy diner that Ribb says is "a broken-down diner that is a perfect setting for a random assembly of broken people." Ribb describes the show in an email as "like 'Twin Peaks' and 'The Breakfast Club,' like a Steinbeck novel and a sappy 1950s motion picture all in one. It's just got so much heart. All the characters in the play are so easy to relate to. The play takes an amazingly brave look at loneliness."

To create that setting, Ribb has looked all over for antiques and other items. She and friends pulled a 250-pound GE refrigerator from the second floor of a Truro home, scoured thrift shops, and borrowed from Chatham residents and her own collection of Americana. Dishes, mugs, napkin holders, sugar pourers are authentic, and there's even a never-opened 1955 calendar and a box of drinking straws from the 1950s. Timing proved serendipitous when the Larry's PX diner in Chatham was having a makeover and the original stools from 1955 went straight to the Chatham Drama Guild stage.

The attention to detail "is really going to drive the play home," Ribb says. "We're (aiming for) the aesthetic of the set to convey the realism of the emotions in the play."

Ribb is an artist who co-founded the Big Collage Collective and she says she's working toward a collaboration between that group of artists and the drama guild. Both groups have meant a lot to her, and she realized her involvement with Big Collage was influenced by time at the guild that started at age 14 when she ran a spotlight for "Nunsense."

"I fell in love with the theater because the director, Chuck Chesnut, made the experience so magical," she says. "I felt a part of this special family, comprised mainly of these amazing seniors who were still doing things the old-fashioned way, while being progressive and hip in motive and design. They revered creative vision and integrity, fellowship and collaboration. They were so talented."

She took a hiatus from the guild to create Big Collage, but now is trying to bring the guild together with Collage co-founder Harley Gardner and a group of Cape artists who "wanted an arts organization that was tailored to our idea of a creative environment. We revered creative vision and integrity, fellowship and collaboration." The guild will host Big Collage in February for an evening of short plays called "Cape Cod Stories," locally written about Cape experiences.

For more theater news and commentary, check out Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll's blog at www.capecodonline.com/stagedoor and follow @KathiSDCC on Twitter.

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(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)

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