The Laramie Project

by Moisés Kaufman

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Critical Overview

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The Laramie Project is often praised, as in American Theatre by Don Shewey, as “a powerful and evocative work of art.” The emotions that were exposed after Matthew Shepard's murder may have focused the world’s attention on the town of Laramie, but Kaufman’s play, as Shewey pointed out, provides not only Laramie but the entire world “an opportunity . . . to talk about things that are on its mind.” As M. S. Mason, writing for the Christian Science Monitor explained: “The arts can shed light on social problems, but rarely does a region like this one have so much need for clarity and thoughtful response to its recent history.” The Laramie Project, according to Mason, helps people “put hate crimes in perspective.” Mason concluded that Kaufman’s play offers “a genuine optimism about human goodness” and a “recognition that evil is not beyond remedy, if we as a society are ready to renounce hate.”

Writing for Time Magazine, which named The Laramie Project one of the top ten plays of the year, Richard Zoglin stated that Kaufman and his troupe were more than capable in expressing “the work’s passion and power.” Adding to the praise was Victor Gluck, writing for Back Stage, who referred to the play as “the most ambitious and powerful new American play of the past year.” At the end of his review, Gluck described the play as a “disturbing, haunting theatre experience.”

Not all reviews were positive. For instance, the New Republic’s Robert Brustein concluded that The Laramie Project had “its moments, but the piece lacks a powerful protagonist.” The play focused too much on the reaction of the townspeople, Brustein found, and too little on who Matthew Shepard and his killers were. “We leave the theater knowing as little about them as when we first arrived,” Brustein wrote, adding that “instead of penetrating character, the play prefers to argue for legislation, as if special laws could somehow change the way people behave.” The Nation’s Elizabeth Pochoda had similar comments. “Laramie,” she wrote, “is a town with a terrible crime, but no terrible truths come to light here.” Then she added: “This beautifully staged canvassing of its citizens is well paced and absorbing but not ultimately affecting.” Pochoda continued that the play does not go deep enough. She believed it should have provided more details about what was not already known. She found herself wondering what the members of the troupe “didn’t find.”

On the other side of the issue, Ed Kaufman, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, found the play to be “a stunning and thought-provoking piece of theater.” This reviewer then suggested that the writer and director of this play had asked the question: “‘Is theater a medium that can contribute to the national dialogue on current events?’” And that the answer to this question “is yes, especially when art and life come together so wonderfully well.”

When the play was published in book form, three publications offered reviews. Jack Helbig, writing for the Booklist, found that the play “has moments of astonishing power.” Meanwhile, Emily Lloyd, writing in School Library Journal, referred to The Laramie Project as a “remarkable play” and “a thoughtful and moving theatrical tour de force.” And finally, Howard Miller, for the Library Journal stated: “This true story of hate, fear, hope, and courage touched and changed many lives and will do so for everyone who reads or watches a performance of this theatrical masterpiece.”

 

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Criticism