By Lynn Geyer
On a chilled October evening in 1998, somewhere in a remote area just outside Laramie, Wyoming, a diminutive young man was stripped, beaten, tortured, tied to a fence post and left to die.
Matthew Shepard was a pleasant youth. He was a student at the University of Wyoming – just shy of his 22nd birthday – and he happened to be gay.
He made one mistake. Matt accepted a ride home from the local bar from a couple of bigoted homophobic drunks, who were bent on robbing him and were so besotted, they didn’t care or know when to stop.
Matthew Shepard died, while still comatose, six days later.
After learning the fate of this unassuming boy, playwright Moisés Kaufman took the members of his Tectonic Theater Project to Laramie. During the six visits the company made to the murder sight, the Tectonic members conducted hundreds of interviews with friends and townspeople who knew Matthew.
Kaufman compiled those interviews into an astonishing piece of expository theatre – “The Laramie Project.”
The show is played out on a simplistic set, designed by Lex Gernon, which is a symbolic fence, up stage and a large riser center; multiple TV monitors are suspended above the stage. Niclas R. Olson does the lighting design, which points the audience in the right direction.
In lieu of “scenes,” this production has “moments,” and they are just that – moments in the lives of the citizens of Laramie when faced with the event they experienced in their town, which has the policy of “Live and let live.”
The South Sound area is blessed with an abundance of dramatic talent and Director Brie Yost has chosen some of the best of that pool of thespians to appear in her brilliant production.
There are nine actors portraying more than 75 roles in this dynamic piece of theatre.
When one speaks of an ensemble cast, it usually means many people acting several small parts to complete a whole. This is not the case in this ensemble cast. These nine actors are not supernumeraries, but stars – each actor has a leading role in the drama. This is a magnificent cast doing an important piece of theatre and Yost has given her audience a tour de force production.
The members of this luminary cast are Jen Aylsworth, Russ Coffey, Mike Cooper, Rachel Fitzgerald, Marty Mackenzie, Jefri Peters, Mark Peterson, Tiffani Pike and Jeremy Thompson.
However, there are really more than 70 people in this play – each actor is so adept at their craft that they change their persona at the turn of a line or the donning of a simple piece of clothing – a hat, a scarf, a shirt – and become a different person.
Aylsworth shines as Marge Murray. Peters is outstanding as her daughter Sheriff Reggie Fluty. Cooper is painfully believable as one of the murderers, Russell Henderson. Coffey is wonderfully obnoxious as the other killer, Bill McKinney. Fitzgerald, Peterson and Pike bounce from role to role with alacrity. Thompson is excellent as Kaufman and empathetic as Dennis Shepard, the victim’s father. Mackenzie is astounding in each of his roles – namely, the befuddled priest, Father Roger Schmidt and the boisterous Doc O’Connor. Each performer is a consummate professional.
“The Laramie Project” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through June 23 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
For more information or to make reservations, call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
Dennis Shepard states about his son, “He was brought into this world premature and he left it premature.”
However, Matthew Shepard also left this world a hero. Because of his unbelievable ordeal, The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama October 28, 2009.
Don’t miss this historic moment of theatre. You may have an opportunity of seeing “The Laramie Project” again, but you’ll never se a better production.