“Not in this town.”
The media neglected this reaction of the Laramie, Wyo., community after the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard.
“The Laramie Project” reenacts the observation Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project made when they conducted extensive interviews with the people of Laramie.
The production, directed by Ken Gray, portrays 22-year-old Shepard as an out gay student at the University of Wyoming whose sexual orientation became a significant factor in his murder.
On Oct. 8, Shepard left with two men he had met at the Fireside Bar, unaware that the two acquaintances, 21-year-old Russel A. Henderson and 22-year-old Aaron J. McKinney, had planned an attack.
The next day, a passing bicyclist found Shepard tied up to a fence at a deserted ranch; he had been kidnapped, robbed, pistol-whipped and left to die.
Due to the severe brutality and near-freezing tempertures Shepard endured, he immediately fell into a coma and died five days later.
The “Laramie Project” team visited the small town of Laramie on six occasions and conducted more than 200 interviews. The interviews are successfully recreated for the audience.
Those interviewed included Shepard’s father, Dennis (portrayed by Brian Dynda), friend Phil Labrie (Misho Avramov), fellow student Jedadiah Schultz (Ben Magallanes Jr.), Fireside Bar owner Matt Mickelson (Aaron Foley) and bartender Matt Galloway (Brian Dynda), Laramie police SGT. Hing (Paul Lumbiado), Casper Star Tribune Reporter Kerry Drake (Kim Smyser), Stake Ecclesiastical leader for the Mormon church Doug Laws (Mike Serot) and the Rev. Fred Phelps (Travis Riner).
The narrator (Suzanna Mirozian) clearly introduces the interviewed individuals and allows each person to speak directly to the audience.
With this technique, the audience successfully understands background facts as well as emotions concerning the tragic event.
Although little plot line is provided, backdrop projection shots, including a desolate and isolated Laramie, on-the-scene photos and pictures of Shepard’s battered face in the hospital, stir the audience’s emotions.
It is impossible for audience members to not be touched by this outstanding and moving performance.
Instead of displaying Shepard’s life and death through a complete performance, the production uses the interviews as its guide to inform the audience of the horrific murder.
While all the individuals interviewed opposed Shepard’s murder, the performers made it clear which characters were for and against gay and lesbian lifestyles.
According to articles in the Laramie Daily Boomerang, Shepard’s murder encouraged gay rights activists as well as U.S. leaders such as Bill Clinton to urge Congress to pass a Federal Hate Crimes Protection Act.
The Laramie Boomerang also published a statement by the political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Rebecca Isaacs, who said, “There is incredible symbolism about being tied to a fence; people have likened it to a scarecrow. But it sounded more like a crucifixion.”
Gray said, “My talented, young cast brings `The Laramie Project’ – with its powerful indication of where hate can lead – to the stage with care and energy.”
“These characters, with their everyday wisdom and their clear and shining growth and resilience, represent the hope for a time when human beings find a way to live in harmony with all their differences. And `The Laramie Project’ is a play about hope.”
“The Laramie Project” will be shown today and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for general admission, $5 for students and seniors and $3 for group rates. All tickets can be purchased at the door.