Figuring out Doc and Galloway

I play three main characters in The Laramie Project: Stephen Belber, Doc O’Connor, and Matt Galloway. Differentiating between the three and discovering their separate and unique identities has been the major challenge of the show for me. At first I found the characters to be quite shallow, both in terms of the fact we know little really about them and spend little real time with any one character and because Galloway and O’Connor are the two characters that seem to most easily lend themselves to becoming caricatures of real human beings. The big thing I have struggled with and continue to struggle with is finding the meat in what little text Kaufman threw us for each of my three characters.

Doc jumps out at you. He’s aggressive. He has a disarming charm, but it has a disturbing tinge to it. I think have discovered an arc to his character, at least the arc that Kaufman creates out of the transcripts of the real Doc’s ramblings. To me, Doc’s arc seems a lot like the arc of the town of Laramie itself. In his first monologues he defends the town’s exceptionalism as well as mourns its changing character (“They used to carry cattle…them trains. Now all they carry is diapers and cars.”). He then reveals a sort of ambivalent “live and let live” attitude towards Matthew and gays in general. He also attempts to deflect the idea that the murder was a hate crime in his “Who’s getting what?” monologue by arguing that homosexuality is present and tolerated (in a way) in Wyoming. In Act II, Doc embodies the town’s besiegement at the hands of the media in his “hard copy” line. At the end of the second act he reveals a softened attitude towards Matthew. No doubt he joined the rest of the world in hoping that Matt would survive. At the end of the act Doc tries to find beauty in the awful site of the fence, a beauty he connects back to Laramie—a town that both he and Matt Shepard found beautiful.

For the playwright in me, the Galloway character seems to take on the role of the bystander that failed to act. Galloway reveals himself to be enormously perceptive and yet he fails to “notice” what he remembered in his re-tellings so well, that “these guys shouldn’ta been talking to this guy.” Making Galloway (and Doc) not a two-dimensional character has been a great challenge for me. But I think I have made some progress by focusing on Galloway’s conflicting attitudes towards the situation. He deflects responsibility at times and at other times seems to hold himself overly responsible for the events of that night. One thing that I have done that I think has been helpful as well is that I think that there are two Galloways. The Galloway of the second Act and the Galloway character that Galloway plays in Act I and Act III. As an actor, I find this dual identity fascinating and I think it explains why his monologue in Act III is in the play.

-Ben Bergmann

2 thoughts on “Figuring out Doc and Galloway

  1. Ben —

    I think the arc you describe for Doc is spot on and I can see it when you perform. You’re very right that Doc and Matt G. are “theatrical” in a way that makes them fun to play but in ways that can make them seem empty or pure surface. Conversely, I think they are two individuals whose objectives are more clearly manifest than other characters — partly because we see them over the course of the three acts — and it’s a testament to your close study as an actor that you’ve really mined the text, and the research, to present full and rich characters (in every sense of that word).

    I know that all the back-story that we (as a class/cast) have found out about Doc, makes me listen to him in a completely different way than perhaps most of our audience will. That 20/20 video and his claim about having had a three-way with Aaron McKinney sits right at the front of my brain when I hear the “Who’s Getting What” monologue. And, I think I sense a bit of that knowledge in you as you navigate through what is a real tangle of ideas in that monologue.

    Also, Matt G.’s piece in Act 2 (I think) when he talks about what he should have/could have done to prevent what happened to Matthew. When I read the script that section seemed more perfunctory than revelatory; Matt G. considers himself the main witness, this is all about his newfound role in a national event. But now, the way you’ve been playing it, I see remorse (perhaps misplaced because who is to say what Matt could have done) a remorse that reappears with a slightly different tone in the Death Penalty debate in Act 3.

    Now that I’m typing this response, I realize that I think of Matt G. as a “witness” a la Brecht’s “Street Scene” (though perhaps with greater self-interest than the idealized version of a person that Brecht’ describes). That first time we meet him in the bar is a complete enactment of the witness recall. And it’s Matt G’s awareness that things didn’t have to go the way they did that haunts him. And, according to Brecht, it’s a feeling we want our audience to have as well. I am thankful that such a pivotal role and expression of it is in your capable hands.

    –Jules

  2. Ben,

    As I’ve told you before. I think you are doing an excellent job of differentiation without falling into the trap of stereotypes.

    I think that for all his bravura, Matt is actually haunted by what could have been it he had been looking more closely. I think you capture that feeling of what transforms Matt in both the parade monologue and the monologue about “looking up from washing the dishes.”

    I think that it is imperative in a show like this that there be real human characters we can also find humor in, without undermining the seriousness of the subject or the audiences attention to the story. I feel certain Belber brought a very similar sense of humaness to the characters he originated, just as you are.

    I think you should be very proud of your work. There are such successful layers to Matt, Doc and Stephen. I never feel as though I am watching a cartoon. I think with these roles that is a hard turn to pull off.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you. IF I ever did call you a “loose cannon” you can rest assured, I value your seriousness, intellect and enormous passion and talent.

    Best-Jeffrey

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