Though “The Laramie Project” has been around for quite a while, I hadn’t seen it before last Friday night. When Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, I heard about it and was horrified, outraged and disturbed on a personal level. It felt truly horrible and terrifying. I always want to know why such things happen, as if there could be a rational reason. I want to know how it happened, so I can know what we should all avoid. Yet, I only take in some details because they tend to get stuck in my mind and stay there, agitate, and become part of my DNA. Many times woken up with Matthew Shepard being the first thought on my mind. I HAD to go see this play, and here it was, being performed right here in my hometown at the high school. And see it I did, last Friday night.
They’d been performing to sell-out audiences, and I hadn’t gotten a ticket yet. After having a conversation with director Sheila Silver, who encouraged me to try anyway, I went and was fortunate to obtain a ticket because someone wasn’t able to attend. While I didn’t know for certain I’d get in, I decided I was going to face this once and for all and process it all as best as I possibly could.
I read some articles online, and I watched a few videos on youtube.com. There is a lovely and touching video that plays Matthew’s father’s courtroom speech while showing a series of photographs. I saw a video clip of Matthew’s mother on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. I often think about what these two parents must go through every day and night ever since their son died ~ not just died but was so brutally ripped from them forever. I went braced and prepared and having faced as much of the truth as I could find in a couple of hours.
I believe Moisés Kaufman has provided a vital and incredibly beneficial service to society by taking his theater troupe and going to Laramie. I’m sure this has all been beyond difficult for the members of that community, and to some the intrusion of the press and then the Tectonic Theater Group was completely unwelcome, but I am willing to bet there are citizens of Laramie who were grateful for the opportunity to open up about their feelings. I hope so anyway. I’M certainly grateful to them for doing so. The simple presentation of what people had to say, including the two young men who robbed, beat and left Matthew Shepard for dead, the honest and straightforward look at the three key young men is the best way to approach this. Sheila Silver’s addition of Shephard himself was a very wise choice and further enhanced the play, in my opinion. The ensemble of young actors who performed was very impressive, and some were truly amazing.
After seeing the play I found that I couldn’t leave it at just that. I wanted to know how someone becomes capable of acts such as those committed by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. I wanted to know more about Matthew Shepard the person. I say no matter what the victim was doing with his life, there is no justification and this was no accident. Whether or not one believes this particular crime was hate motivated, the fact remains that a young man was killed.
We as individuals need to process occurrences such as this; we as a society have much to learn and so much needs to change. “The Laramie Project” is a marvelous creation and tool to help us individually and collectively grieve, heal and grow. I am profoundly grateful to both Moisés Kaufman and Sheila Silver and the actors of the AVPA.
Colleen Malone- Engel