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The Laramie Project

By Josephine Yun | Posted 6/4/2003

The Laramie Project

Moises Kaufman and Tectonic Theater Project

On Nov. 14, 1998, members of the Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, Wyo., to interview more than 200 people about Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who had been beaten to death there. The Laramie Project is edited from those tapes, theater-company members' journals, and other texts.

Before a fairly filled house at Spotlighters Theatre last Friday night, pre-performance choralers occupied audience members with a musical summary of the play. A rowdy old western number accompanied by clunky bar piano was followed by "Kumbaya"; then, the singers closed with a disturbingly twisted "Amazing Grace." Lights faded in and out gradually, as three masked actors posed in three silent, similar scenes.

Laramie police detective Sgt. Hing (John Hurley) spoke first, cordially offering a bit of PR for the town. Next, blond and gelled UW student Jedediah Schultz (Robbie Heacock) mentioned Shepard by name and gave a more youthful, personal perspective. Matthew's red-headed close friend Romaine Patterson (Heather Fangsrud) stepped up. Longtime pals Alison Mears (Marianne Angelella) and Marge Murray (Suzanne Knapik) talked about minimum-wage vs. university workers, the well-educated vs. the not-so-educated; jovial to start, they became instantly defensive at the mention of Shepard's name. UW professor Catherine Connolly (Kelley Slagle) told of her experiences as a lesbian in Laramie. Superaggressive feminist Zubaida Ula (also Slagle) explained what it was like to be a Muslim there.

The play flitted along this way, unfolding with more people and stories, ultimately finishing as a vivid re-creation of Laramie before, during, and after Matthew Shepard's death. A few timing mistakes jarred the introductions of some characters. The televisions mounted on the stage's corners, however, effectively paced and guided the dialogue throughout. Scenes of nature, fishing, football, and old westerns flashed on screen as Hurley's Hing talked up Laramie. Media whores Heacock, Knapik, Alex Peri, Slagle, and Mikal McCruden multiplied fourfold as they were taped by cameraman Tony Viglione. And when Hurley gave briefings about Shepard as Rulon Stacey--CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital--he was preceded each time by momentary captions, then projected onto the screens, transforming the audience into both potential media members and housebound spectators.

Despite having to hop between characters (14 actors tackled 83 parts, sincerely each time), the Laramie cast successfully answered one question about hate crimes in general. "What's come out of it that's concrete and lasting?" Romaine asked. The Laramie Project is just that: concrete, lasting, and true. And the Spotlighters do a good job of telling the tale right.

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