THE ELEPHANT'S GRAVEYARD meets THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Barbara Biddison
The Hamilton-Gibson journey from 2009 to 2023 has been rich and varied, and for me full of everything. And here I am watching a few Elephant's Graveyard rehearsals and thinking about 2009 when we produced, on alternating dates, Our Town and The Laramie Project. Most of us were in both shows about 14 years ago, which was as close to anything like repertory theatre as any of us would ever get.. And Laramie is a true most powerful, heart-wrenching play in which the gay Matt Shepherd is found bleeding on a wire fence. I played the bartender mother of the police woman who found him there and rescued
his bleeding body. And this mother waited with her daughter to learn the results of the lab tests which would reveal whether this police woman had contracted AIDS from the bleeding Matt Shepherd. It still brings tears to my eyes, and I value that emotional experience.
Just a note on audience reaction to Laramie Project. We had theatre friends from out-of-town visiting, and they saw the play. Toward the end of the play there is a candle-lit procession on stage. All the actors get and carry real candles lit with real flame. When we and our guests got home and talked about the show, they, as audience members, said with honesty and passion, "We thought we were going to get candles too." It was that real. Audience reaction to the play was very rewarding for those of us who played those parts, and many audience members stayed for talk-backs after the shows. I remember the gay couple who explained why they couldn't stay for the talk-back after the matinee--they needed to go home and feed their children supper.
So, back to The Elephant's Graveyard. It is sometimes funny, and it is, for most people, powerfully moving. And I, for one, sometimes cry. Hamilton-Gibson doesn't do much of this sort of thing, but when we do it is rich and thoughtful. And I sometimes smile too. In the
last rehearsal that I attended I appreciated the scripted addition of the drums. Haven't heard the expected guitar yet, but I no doubt will the next time around. There are references that our audiences will relate to, such as, in discussion about the elephant "Right on Main
Street. Our Main Street," because we actually have a Main Street here in Wellsboro and can imagine what that would be like. You will hear the crowd chant "MARY...MARY MARY" and feel a part of that crowd.. As I sit there I literally go between wanting to chant with the crowd
on stage to just sitting and taking it all in. The crowd shouts "Kill it! Kill it!!! and I no longer want to shout with them.
I still have not seen this play from beginning to end in one sitting. As the play opens the townspeople are milling about in their ordinary clothes. That's the first day. As the second day begins we realize that townspeople have changed clothes, "dressed up" to go to the
circus. The telling of this story includes the worlds of the circus and the town and the railroad. It is a powerful story that I will remember as long and as well as I have Laramie Project. Except that I was part of the Laramie Project cast, and I'm not in this one, this
Elephant's Graveyard. It's called a vicarious experience.