The Laramie Project, one of the best-reviewed new American plays of the year, will end its Off-Broadway run Sept. 2, a date some would consider premature for such an ambitious and lauded new work.
Moises Kaufman's collaboration with members of his Tectonic Theater Project opened May 18 at the Union Square Theatre and is a sort of docudrama about public response to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, although Kaufman said he dislikes the term "docudrama" and cringes at the suggestion that the piece is theatrical "journalism." By the close, the production will have played 126 performance and 23 previews.
As previously reported by Playbill On-Line, cast members were told in late July that the staging may close by early September due to sluggish sales during the summer months. Producer Roy Gabay said in the Aug. 8 closing statement that the reason for shuttering is to allow the company to focus on a fast-tracking of the upcoming HBO film version that will include the Off Broadway cast as well as stars.
A commercial run of August Wilson's Jitney, which began at midtown's Second Stage, will park at the Union Square Sept. 19. Like Laramie, Jitney has been hailed for the work of its ensemble cast. No shoot date has been announced for the Laramie Project picture, which Kaufman will write and direct. HBO and Good Machine acquired the film rights. The movie will be co-produced by Peter S. Cane and Roy Gabay. There is already buzz in Denver and Laramie, WY, that the movie will be shot on location.
The Laramie Project had its world premiere earlier this year by the Denver Center Theatre Company in association with Tectonic Theater Project. Gabay moved the work to New York City for a May 18 opening and entered a traditionally difficult summer season, when audiences and tourists might not have serious-minded drama in their thoughts.
As in Denver, the New York staging features a company that includes Stephen Belber, Amanda Gronich, Mercedes Herrero, Andy Paris, John McAdams, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts and Kelli Simpkins. Designers are Robert Brill (set), Moe Schell (costumes), Betsy Adams (lighting), with original music by Peter Golub and video and slides by Martha Swetzoff.
The film is expected to be a feature that, like the stage show, will concern members of a theatre group who travel to Laramie, WY, where Shepard was beaten to death, to take a cultural pulse, toward the goal of creating a play.
In the months following the murder, Kaufman and members of his Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Wyoming, interviewed citizens and co-wrote the script. On stage, actors play themselves, their colleagues and the people of Laramie and environs. The audience is directly addressed in the piece.
Aug. 11 marked the 100th performance since opening May 18. Members of Tectonic Theater Project include head writer and assistant director Leigh Fondakowski; associate writers Stephen Belber, Greg Pierotti and Steve Wangh. The dramaturgs are Amanda Gronich, Andy Paris, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simpkins, John McAdams, Sarah Lambert and Maude Mitchell.
Actress Mercedes Herrero, an audience favorite playing the standout role of the cop who first encounters a barely-alive Shepard, is the only performer who was not involved in the original writing and research of the piece. She originated her roles in Denver, as well, where the piece made its debut Feb. 26.
Off-Broadway producers are Gabay and the Tectonic Theater Project in association with Gayle Francis, and The Araca Group. Associate Producers are Mara Isaacs and Hart Sharp Entertainment, Inc.
In a statement, Gabay said, "While I'm sad to see the closing of The Laramie Project in New York, I'm thrilled with the response it has received and buoyed by the number of people whose lives it has transformed. I consider myself lucky to have ben able to bring the show to New York and even luckier to now get to present it in another medium through HBO."
Regional theatres and universities are expected to be champing at the bit for rights to stage The Laramie Project, which has a provocative, human subject, a minimal set and eight choice ensemble roles -- the sort of intimate work nonprofits thrive on. Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton, FL, and Philadelphia Theatre Co. are said to be interested.
Tickets for the Off-Broadway run are $40-$55 with $25 rush seats. Performances play 8 PM Monday-Saturday, 3 PM Wednesday and Saturday. The Union Square Theatre is at 100 E. 17th St. (off Union Square and Park Avenue South).
For tickets, call (212) 505-0700 or (212) 307-4100. Visit the web site at www.TheLaramieProject.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones