A Product of Our Company: The Laramie Project Comes to Utah

On a dark autumn night in 1998, a student Matthew Shepard was shot, tortured and tied to a fence and left for dead by local men in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming – an attack that would cost him his life and draw worldwide attention to the heinous treatment of lives LGBTQ+ in America. The factors that contributed to Sheppard’s murder are not uncommon in the proliferation of modern anti-gay sentiment and are dissected on political, spiritual and societal levels in the critically acclaimed play, The Laramie Project.

This piece is unique in that it is not only based from a true story – the playwrights themselves researched the field, with quotes taken directly from locals crying, judging, huddled together and trying to swallow how “this could happen here”. Playwright Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project conducted interviews the year after Sheppard’s murder, turning the case study into a production as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. The piece shines as a documentation of a place, time, and culture that cultivated a perspective that still permeates our present. On October 6, I went to see The Laramie Project to Mid-Valley Performing Arts Centercompletely unaware that I was going to visit Matt, 24 years later, the very night he was robbed of his life.

“The characters swung through the pendulum of human experience with their funny, brash, fearful, enraged and desperate dialogue.”

The play began with an overview of the facts of the crime, how the play came to fruition, and a moment of silence for the deceased. At that moment, I knew that some degree of emotional preparation was in order. The intentional minimalism of the set design contributed to an increased sense of intimacy in the audience – the section from which we were silent voyeurs was at the level of the actors, the only stage props used were black chairs and the names of the actors. scenes, usually a staged location or a quote from an interviewee, introduced into “Moments” projected on the back wall. The simplicity and abrasiveness of the scene changes reflected the number of people processing the event, existing from moment to moment.

The versatility of each actor in the production (alexander Ashe, Jack Bellows, Becky Davis, Jean-Joslin, Brian Keith, Dalia Lechuga, Sonia Maritza, Sam Torres) was a key element in driving the nature of the story home with how they transformed into the next character within minutes, showcasing the stark contrast between the various moving parts colliding as a result of a tragedy. The characters swung through the pendulum of human experience with their funny, brash, fearful, enraged, and desperate dialogue. Each performance was studied, digested and lived so deeply that the simple change of a hat or scarf brought a completely different person to life.

One of the most promising players was Em Smileywho played the role of Roman Patterson, an openly lesbian woman and Sheppard’s best friend who would go on to become an activist in the LGBTQ+ community with her “Angel Action” protests (if you’re unaware, I strongly suggest watching) against those who spit hatred under the guise of conservative Christianity. With wit and sincerity, Smiley channeled Romaine’s ferocity and unapologetic faith into doing the right thing in every scene her character appeared in, while simultaneously performing as some of Laramie’s wary residents evasively justifying the attack. due to Sheppard’s lifestyle. Abhi Harikumar performed the production’s standout monologue, reading the impassioned victims’ impact statement Dennis Shepard gave verbatim as he extended his mercy to his son’s killers, leaving not a single dry eye in sight.

“Watching the aftermath of Sheppard’s death inspires the public to grasp the collective responsibility to bring care together not just when tragedy occurs, but as a measure to secure acceptance as a human right.”

This is not the play where you leave the theater dancing, humming lively tunes or with jokes to tell, but it is one that is all the more important for the indisputable reality of who we are and the truths we carry. Wyoming neighbors Beehive State, and Utah has its own history of prejudice against the LGBTQ+ community that is tangible and still happening. While examining the roles played by each character in the event that happened in 1998, it is important to consider the roles we play that impede the identity, peace and autonomy of queer people today. . Watching the aftermath of Sheppard’s death prompts audiences to grasp the collective responsibility to pull together care not just when tragedy occurs, but as a measure to secure acceptance as a human right. Art that is created to challenge and move those who witness it on a personal level is crucial to beleaguering hate, so bring your friends, loved ones or, if applicable, an open mind to see The Laramie Project before the show ends this weekend.

“I think right now our most important teachers have to be [the assailants]. They must be our teachers. How did you learn? What have we done as a society to teach you this? »

The Laramie Project short to Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center from October 6 to 15 and is produced by Jim Martin and produced by WTC Studio 54. You can find tickets at saltlakecountyarts.org.

Learn more about Ashton Ellis:
Punk, prints and poltergeists at Copper Palate Press
Joji with rei brown and SavageRealm @ UCCU Center 09.09

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