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The Laramie Project
Theatre Review by Wendy Guida

Living in New York City, I just don't have the same sense of community that people do elsewhere. If I hear about crime, I am relieved if it didn't happen on my block or in my neighborhood, but the sheer size of this city affords me a degree of anonymity that is not available in small towns. When Matthew Shepard, a young college student, was murdered for being gay in Laramie, Wyoming, the town was put on trial by the media who descended upon it in a frenzy. What made it possible for the soil of Laramie to grow such murderers?

To create The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman and The Tectonic Theatre Project traveled to Laramie on six different occasions to conduct interviews with the residents and to try to understand the effects of the murder and its aftermath. This process is not unlike the one used by Truman Capote when he wrote In Cold Blood, but one difference is that Capote intentionally disappeared into his text; he is not a character in it. In contrast, The Laramie Project is very much about the experiences of this company going to this town and getting to know its people. We are regularly reminded that what we are seeing is filtered through them and this makes even more remarkable the fact that the story is told in such an even-handed and non-preachy manner.

Laramie is a diverse town in its way. There are the people connected to the university, there are ranchers, and there are townsfolk. All are represented in the play, from Reggie Fluty, of the Sheriff's office, who was exposed to HIV in an attempt to save Matthew's life, to Aaron Kreifels, the 14 year old boy who found Matthew at the fence and wondered why God had involved him in that way. We meet Jedadiah Schultz, a young acting student at the university who struggles against his parents anti-gay teachings, as well as Doc O'Connor, the hilarious and endearing limo driver who knew and cared about Matthew. So many people, portrayed by only eight cast members, and yet each is distinct, memorable. This play is performed by one of the best ensembles I have seen; with only one costume detail to denote a character change, the actors transform themselves physically and vocally, bringing the town of Laramie into sharp focus.

In one of the most moving sections of the play, Kelli Simpkins portrays Romaine Patterson, a friend of Matthew's, who was moved after Matthew's murder to become politically active. Her "Angel Action" is inspiring in its use of love to crowd out the hate of one religious leader in the area. Despite all the pain of the story, The Laramie Project is very much about love, about the healing that is possible through forgiveness and mercy. It is about the efforts to educate people so that Matthew will not have died in vain.

Possibly because I knew that the performers were also the play's creators, what kept washing over me during the play was a profound sense of gratitude. They made the journey to Laramie and channeled it back for us, which not only makes for intensely moving theatre, but also for a kind of people's history of this time and this place. This is not a show to be missed.


The Laramie Project
Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street
Tickets online: Ticketmaster

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