American playwright Stephen Belber was a member of the Tectonic Theater Project who, with Moises Kaufman, produced The Laramie Project, the renowned 2000 verbatim drama based on interviews with residents of Laramie, Wyoming about their reactions to the 1998 murder of gay university student Mathew Shepard.
He now returns to further explore the motivations behind homophobic hate crimes in this fictional two-hander, which has received its European premiere care of HighTide Festival. This time, it’s the perpetrator of a long-ago crime with whom we’re seeking some level of empathy.
We meet Ray more than two decades after the moment when he might have but failed to prevent a prejudice-fuelled homicide, two decades of prison time, lost potential and regret. But now, here’s a faint possibility of redemption in the chance meeting, or rather re-meeting, with Molly, a girl he kissed on the beach the summer before his life’s path was redirected.
Belber’s script begins as a series of interwoven monologues, Ray and Molly each recalling their past selves and potentials with vivid detail and melancholic yearning. These direct addresses to the audience work best – both in terms of the material and the performances, Abi Titmuss exuding an innate goodness and Paul Blair an ineffable sadness.
It’s when the two must interact that the bounds of plausibility are stretched – Titmuss is not convincing as a hard-bitten, potty-mouthed CNN journalist and nor is the idea that she’d be drawn into a relationship-cum-interrogation with a jargon-spewing felon out of mere curiosity. But Belber asks some interesting questions and offers moments of pure poetic beauty that make this an 80 minutes well spent.