‘Laramie Project’ Proves Analytical
MSUM play looks at all sides of controversial issue
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 13:10
Thought and reflection rang through the air during MSUM Theatre’s season premiere “The Laramie Project” last week. This bit of investigative theatre cracked down on several social issues, all surrounding the death of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998.
Shepard was kidnapped, tortured, and tied to a fence on the Wyoming prairie by two men he met in a bar. Found after 18 hours by a bicyclist who thought he was scarecrow, Shepard lived for five days in a coma before dying in a Colorado hospital from his injuries. He was 21 years old.
His death reached around the world, sparking outrage against hate crimes and other issues tied to his murder. Shepard’s killers received two consecutive life sentences each in 1999. Legislation inspired by Shepard’s death went into effect in 2009 to better fund investigations and prosecutions of hate crimes, as well as creating a more inclusive umbrella over what constitutes a hate crime.
As the brainchild of Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Company, “The Laramie Project” is an onstage flipbook of dozens of interviews conducted by the theatre company during their visits to Laramie in 1999. A cast of 20 students was responsible for the many, many interviewees of Kaufman and his crew. Each person had some association with Shepard, his discovery, his killers, or his death.
Through over 50 moments and monologues in the play, the ideas and opinions behind what happened to Shepard were hashed out by all of the various interviewees in Laramie during the Tectonic Theatre visits. Characters included friends of Shepard’s as well as his killers; the bicyclist and policewoman who found him at the fence; faculty members of the University of Wyoming; and the people in the bar where Shepard was last seen alive.
Every person had some piece of insight into Shepard’s death, why it happened and what was wrong about it. Every person covered the spectrum of opinions, from an incredibly conservative Biblicist pastor to a straight-shooting limo driver.
Though every opinion was uniquely different than the others, one element was the same throughout: that Shepard’s death was wrong. This was something that almost everyone interviewed could agree on, that killing a young man with his entire life ahead of him was not right.
Yes, there were people who believed it was Shepard’s own fault for being killed, people with a mentality that “he was asking for it” for being homosexual. Picketers at his funeral asserted this.
“The Laramie Project” did a remarkable job in offering every point of view that Kaufman and his crew could find. This was a very fair angle to take with a show like this, as everyone will have differing opinions on a subject like this. Not only was this play intriguing to take in, it provided deep subject matter that some people may be shy to see. By exploring the issues in “The Laramie Project,” MSUM Theatre provoked much reflection on a tragic event that struck a chord with an entire country.
“The Laramie Project” ran at MSUM’s Gaede Stage from Oct. 2 to 5.