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Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT Sparks Dialogue at Sacramento State's Playwrights Theatre

Review: THE LARAMIE PROJECT Sparks Dialogue at Sacramento State's Playwrights Theatre

Casey McClellan Directs Their Fall Production

As I watched The Laramie Project at Sacramento State University on Saturday night, I thought to myself how far we've come as a society and how much progress we've made since 1998. That was the year Matthew Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence in rural Wyoming by two young men - left to die simply because he was gay. What I didn't know was that, at about the same time, another tragedy was unfolding in Colorado as another young man opened fire on innocent victims at an LGBTQ nightclub, proving that we have much further to go and illuminating the importance of pieces like The Laramie Project.

The Laramie Project is unique in the fact that all its dialogue is taken verbatim from interviews, notes, and articles pieced together by playwright Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. The group inhabited the town of Laramie for several weeks to speak with residents, colleagues, and friends of Matthew to put together a comprehensive picture of the events leading up to his death with the purpose of eventually presenting it on stage as a verbatim piece highlighting the violence perpetuated against the gay community.

This production's director, Casey McClellan, is known for his thoughtful choices of pieces on social commentary. I've had the pleasure of seeing his direction in works on race relations (Baltimore), genocide (The Diary of Anne Frank), and sexual identity (Cock). As a BroadwayWorld Award-winning actor and director, McClellan brings his considerable breadth of knowledge to put forth a piece of sensitivity, appropriately honoring Matthew Shepard and the sacrifice he unwittingly made to open eyes and minds to a pressing human rights issue.

The play itself features eight actors who are all students of drama at Sacramento State. They are appropriately titled Actors 1 through 8 since each play multiple roles (more than 60 in all). Included in the roles are the Sheriff leading the investigation, a deputy sheriff who is exposed to AIDS, the administrator of the hospital where Matthew Shepard lay dying, and various townsfolk. All of them share the same sentiment - such a horrific crime must have been the work of a stranger, someone not from their insular community of Laramie, Wyoming. With its scant population of hard-working ranchers and university scholars, surely, as one resident put it, "we don't grow children like that here." Yet if not there, where? Much like the 1885 Massacre that put Rock Springs on the map 3 hours to the west, Laramie is now forever associated with violence and intolerance. Balancing that, the writers of this piece do a masterful job of painting the players as kind people who show genuine concern for Shepard and unmitigated grief when things don't go as hoped.

The Laramie Project is truly an ensemble piece, and the students skillfully segued from one character to the next, shedding one as quickly as they shed the representative costume piece hanging from the aisle. However, two of the actors stood out to me for their particularly poignant representation of typically stoic positions. Robbie Holwell played Rulon Stacey, the hospital administrator and Shepard family spokesperson who was mocked for showing grief when Matthew Shepard died. Holwell's portrayal of Stacey expertly depicted a professional who struggled with remaining impartial and accepting what his Mormon faith taught him to believe against being a father and a human who felt rage and horror for what Shepard had gone through. Cast member Julie Lewis also wore many hats, from waitress to minister's wife, but the role that she shone in was that of Reggie Fluty, the policewoman who was the first on the scene to rescue Matthew Shepard. As she noted that there were only two places free from blood on his face, the tracks where his tears fell, her compassion as a human being and her dedication as an officer became what I will remember about Reggie Fluty. Ultimately, through the horror, the story is one of hope. Hope that love will prevail and hope that change will occur. I have hope that it will.

Although The Laramie Project has completed its run at Sac State, more information on The Matthew Shepard Foundation and The Laramie Project can be found at www.matthewshepard.org. Information on upcoming shows at Sac State may be found by visiting their website at csus.edu/college/arts-letter/theatre-dance.

Photo credit: Charr Crail



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From This Author - Courtney Symes

Courtney Symes is a long-time theatre aficionado who has been writing for BroadwayWorld since 2017. She has been active in theatre and youth organizations in her community. After trying law sc... (read more about this author)


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