History forgotten is history repeated, which underscores “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” in its Los Angeles premiere at the Gay & Lesbian Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre.
This potent follow-up to the landmark Tectonic Theater Project docudrama about community reactions to Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder reminds anew of how theater provides context in ways no other form can match.
In 2008, Tectonic director Moisés Kaufman and colleagues Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber returned to Laramie, Wyo., to explore what progress, or lack thereof, had been made in a decade. Their interviews with previous subjects and new ones comprise the narrative, which again deploys reportage and once-removed characterizations without editorializing.
Leave that to the audience, since director Ken Sawyer’s inspired staging wraps us around the action, up close and personal, enfolded in designer Robert Selander’s set. This immersive approach, aided by Luke Moyer’s ambient lighting, lands the property’s overview in our laps.
The ensemble, accompanied by singer Johanna Chase, is beyond praise. Ed F. Martin, Ann Noble, Paul Witten, Paul Haitkin and Carl J. Johnson play the Tectonic crew and various interviewees along with Elizabeth Herron, Che Landon and Christine Sloane, all interrelating with preternatural versatility and control. And in a directorial masterstroke, Michael Hanson and Dylan Seaton alternate nightly as killers Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, evoking a chilling duality.
Yes, the final addendum on gay military and marriage equality advances feels slightly abrupt, but it’s thematically apt. The recent public heckling at an Old Miss “Laramie” performance and the homophobic backlash on both hemispheres demonstrate the ongoing validity of Tectonic’s objective.
At present, this riveting sequel is perhaps only rivaled by “The Normal Heart” at the Fountain for cumulatively moving, issue-driven power. It’s a haunting achievement as trenchant as it is artful, and not to be missed.
“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Gay & Lesbian Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. No performance Oct. 20. Ends Nov. 16. $25-$20. (323) 860-7300 or www.lagaycenter.org/theatre. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.