There are two reasons why you should see The Laramie Project in Oates Theater this week.
First, while this play is seemingly about homosexuality, media, and terrible violence, underneath it is really the story of a man and his community. The play begins with characters who live in the town of Laramie, Wyoming, describing why they like their town so much (all of them are real people, not fictional characters created for the purpose of a play). Collegiate is a community in which the various members – students, faculty, staff, parents, families – support each other in many different ways. Laramie is a community that was put through a crisis when Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and killed there in October 1998, and this play recounts the year-long struggle that community faced as the media descends on the town and the killers are put on trial. In the end, you see the community supporting each other and coming together to face the fact that two of their own were capable of the horrendous crime that was Matthew Shepard’s death.
The play is a unique creation of Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project. After Shepard’s death, Kaufman and members of the Theater Project traveled to Laramie to interview as many people as possible about their town and the tragedy. They talked to the police, Shepard’s friends, friends of the killers, people in the gay community, and religious and civic leaders. These interviews make up the script of the play, and they are interwoven into a complex tapestry that tells the story of this ranching and university town in a rugged West where the motto has often been “Live and Let Live.” The town must deal with the national attention brought on by Shepard’s death, and the ensuing media frenzy is brilliantly recreated in the Collegiate Players’ depiction with the use live-feed cameras and multiple screens and projectors.
The second and more important reason you should go see The Laramie Project is the incredible cast and crew that have created this powerful work of theater. Due to the relatively small cast and expansive nature of the play, all of the actors play at least two characters, while some change between five different roles over the course of the three acts. Sometimes this change may be a split second when a jacket is removed and the actor moves from one portion of the stage to another. This is a challenge for any actor, and our Collegiate Players rise to the occasion. We have an incredible talented bunch over there in Oates, and they are able to take this difficult piece of theater and make it their own.
One of the most profound moments comes at the end of the first (of three) acts, with Emily Cyr as Reggie Fluty, the policewoman who first reached Shepard, tied to a fence 18 hours after he was attacked, barely alive. Cyr is wonderfully moving in her recounting of the scene, and her intensity is reminiscent of her turn as Abigail Williams in last year’s Oates production of The Crucible. At the same moment, however, on the other side of the stage, Jane Blackmer plays Dr. Cantway, the emergency doctor who first treated Shepard, telling with sad amazement how she only later realized that one of Matthew’s killers was in the same ER at the same time as Matthew, with an unrelated injury. She wonders whether how she felt, moving between victim and attacker while treating them both, is how God feels when looking down on Man on earth. It is a moment that stays with you long after the play is over.
Special recognition must be made for the seniors in the theater troupe. This is the last time they will be gracing our stage, and it seems like just yesterday that Andrew Fernandez was a goofy sixth grader appearing in 2007’s The Music Man. In this production, he switches between Baptist minister and curious theater student with ease. This group of seniors is one of the most talented groups of actors we have ever had at Collegiate, and they have finished their Oates careers with amazing and powerful performances in Laramie. You see them in classes and on the sports fields, and you need to see what they do on stage in this production. It is not to be missed.
The Laramie Project is in Oates Theater this Thursday (April 3, 7:30 pm), Friday (April 4, 7:30 pm), and Saturday (April 5, 7:00 pm). There will be an audience talk-back (with refreshments!) following Friday’s performance.
Tickets can be purchased at: http://collegiate-va.ticketleap.com/Laramie/