Chris Kostro in The Laramie Project. Playwright: Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project. At: Theo Ubique Theatre at No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood. Phone: 773-743-3355; $20. Runs through: June 24
The actors are really hard-working in Theo Ubique Theatre's solid take on The Laramie Project at the No Exit Cafe. Not only do they portray a wide spectrum of people opining on the 1998 beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard; they also work the box office and wait the tables.
How the actors can juggle waiting on fussy customers and adding up their dinner tabs while performing perhaps the most important gay tolerance docudrama ever created is an extraordinary feat. That the actors can successfully do it with such limited means is also a testament to their powers of performance and the incisive material that instantly conjures up the galvanizing days when the worldwide media pounced on Matthew Shepard's story.
I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much when I first walked in to the No Exit Cafe. There's only a small raised platform and minimal signs of stage lighting. In terms of decor, there's a small backdrop with an impressionist painting of a Wyoming landscape featuring that ominous fence that Shepard was tied to and left for dead.
Set designer Judith M. Renner makes an attempt to make whole café resemble some sort of Laramie bar. But when you realize that the rifles and antelope head on the wall are made out of crepe paper, expectations of a good performance might diminish.
Oh, how wrong I was. Theo Ubique Theater's eight-member cast reaffirms the magic of theater by reminding us that great actors need only add a pair of glasses or a scarf to delineate a variety of strong and distinct characters.
Of course, much of the strength of The Laramie Project is in the script itself. Culled by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project from actual interviews, media coverage and court records, The Laramie Project is an exemplary model of balance in exploring the psyche of a community shocked by a homophobic act of violence and the judgmental glare of the world.
Director Fred Anzevino eschews the high-tech TV-heavy multimedia approach of the original production and instead finds simple ways to tell the story. Sometimes it's just the entire cast whispering a constant stream of newspeak to portray the vociferous media or the sublime incidental score played live on guitar and fiddle by Rick Veras.
The great performers caress as much as they can from the text. Everyone is deserving of mention, so please excuse the all-inclusive list of wonderful performers: Austin B. Harvey, Lisa Hunter, Chris Kostro, Elizabeth Lesinski, Aileen May, Bill Redding, Bridgid Titley and Mikey Vines.