Thursday, February 21, 2013

NYC Theater Roundup: 'Laramie Project' and "All in the Timing" Return

The Laramie Project Cycle
Directed by Moises Kaufman and Leigh Fondakowski
Performances February 12-24, 2013
Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

All in the Timing
Written by David Ives; directed by John Rando
Performances through April 14, 2013
Primary Stages @ 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY

The Laramie Project, which played off-Broadway in 2000, was an emotionally devastating experience. Director Moises Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Company—comprising several talented performer-writers—drew upon dozens of their interviews with citizens of Laramie (the Wyoming town where Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in 1998 by two gay-bashers) to piece together an honest account of how such a heinous crime affected those who lived through it.

In 2008, Kaufman and company returned to Laramie for a follow-up, and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later makes its New York premiere at BAM alongside the original, which remains a touchstone of theatrical journalism. So it’s almost inevitable that the sequel falls somewhat short of the high standards the company set for itself. But humane, intelligent and necessary viewing describes Ten Years Later to a T.

Using the same unadorned “style” of the original—the performers take turns directly addressing the audience while speaking in either their own or the locals’ voices and words—Ten Years Later deftly dismantles the dishonest “20/20” segment by Elizabeth Vargas from 2004, which trumpeted that Shepherd was murdered in a robbery and drug deal gone wrong. Those lazy untruths insinuated themselves into the very psyche of Laramie, as the Tectonics found when they returned to town: many people wanted to sweep the “hate crime” stigma under the rug.

Exploring what Shepherd’s murder means to Laramie a decade on—from anger to resignation to indifference— Ten Years Later also builds tension in separate interviews with killers Russell Henderson, whose appearance climaxes Act I, and Aaron McKinney, who dominates Act II. Henderson comes off as vaguely sympathetic and McKinney as an unrepentant dirtbag, but their dual presence doesn’t overwhelm the care and the craft that have gone into this searing—and must-see—play.

Liv Rooth and Carson Ellrod in All in the Timing (photo: James Leynse)
All in the Timing, David Ives’ delightful series of six one-acts, returns to Primary Stages, the theater which premiered it 20 years ago: it won’t run for 600 performances again, but its cleverness and humor permeate all two hours of John Rando’s winning new production. Although little more than glorified sketches, the playlets of All in the Timing have much to say about how we use and abuse language and one another.

The opener, “Sure Thing,” introduces Ives’ method, which has anything but madness in it: Bill and Betty meet in a Manhattan cafĂ© and run through various permutations of how their conversation proceeds—or doesn’t—based on whether he, she or both respond in ways to further their discussion or to stop it dead in its tracks. Here’s a witty sample:
Bill: What’s the book?
Betty: The Sound and the Fury
Bill: Oh. Faulkner.
Betty: Have you read it?
Bill: I’m a Mets fan, myself.

In some ways, this rapid-fire two-hander is the best of the lot; other skits belabor their jokes (“The Universal Language,” about a new tongue dreamt up by a man to meet women), while others hammer their jokes into the ground (Philip Glass’s dully repetitive music is rightfully skewered in “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread,” although at ten minutes it wears out its welcome—like Glass’s music, which may be the point).

Better are “Words, Words, Words,” which smartly satirizes science telling us that a monkey at a typewriter can eventually write Hamlet; “The Philadelphia,” which snappily turns alternate reality on its head; and “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” which transforms the Russian revolutionary’s murder into a wildly surreal voyage.

Rando’s irresistible staging whisks us from one skit to the next, while his adroit quintet—led by the comedically and histrionically agile Carson Elrod—effortlessly keep Ives’ amusing balls floating in the air. 

The Laramie Project Cycle
Brooklyn Academy of Music, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

All in the Timing
Primary Stages @ 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, New York, NY

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