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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


‘Laramie Project’ brings compelling conflict to life

It takes a lot to truly shock anyone anymore. With violence in movies and on television, there really is not much that society has not seen. But then you get a story like the one out of Laramie, Wyo. only a few short years ago, and it shocks the nation.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, was tied to a fence, beaten, and left for dead in the middle of the night — all because he was gay. The incident gave a new meaning to hate crimes in this country and a new meaning to Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project who decided to make a play about it.

They have Matthew Shepard to thank for their truly brilliant final product. If only he were alive to see it.


“The Laramie Project,” yet another amazing production coming out of the Madison Repertory Theatre this season, made its theatrical debut on the Madison Rep stage this past Friday. Directed by J.R. Sullivan, this docu-drama was made for the stage, although an ensuing HBO television special based on the play has enhanced its popularity.

The show opens with the introduction of the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project and what their goals were upon arriving in Laramie. With only an eight-member cast, each actor took turns portraying multiple Laramie residents and what their interpretation and feelings were with regard to the beating and eventual death of Matthew Shepard.

Laramie, Wyo. was torn apart by this murder and by the media frenzy that ensued. This play, more than anything, showed the destruction by the media.

A strobe light reflects the flashing cameras, and the multiple video cameras and interviews depicted on this stage alone give only a glimpse of the oppressive nature of today’s media.

Repeatedly before his death, a spokesperson for the Shepard family asked to be left alone and to have the nation simply pray for their son’s recovery. But this particular crime, this particular incident, has been in the spotlight and will be for many years to come. Maybe this story is not one anyone should easily forget.

Tracy Michelle Arnold, Jeff Christian, Deborah Clifton, James DeVita, Paul Hurkey, Carolyn Pasquantonio, Whitney Sneed and C. Michael Wright all do phenomenal jobs in this production. None of them stand out or steal the show, and with the nature of this production, that’s completely appropriate.

Had any one of the characters had more flare than the rest, the message would not have been effectively portrayed. This production is not about acting talent or stars; it is about finding hope in even the most horrifying circumstances.

These actors, all very talented, portray a large variety of different kinds of people. Even in Laramie, there is discrimination and intolerance, whether those that reside there admit to it or not.

As one of the actresses says in a monologue, residents in Laramie tried to make people believe that this was a place where something like this wouldn’t happen. But, in fact, it did.

Murmurs could be heard from the audience as the physical aspects of Matthew’s death were described. The actress who portrays the young biker who accidentally found him tied to that fence does everything she possibly can to depict such a scene. And the tear that runs down her cheek is real; all the tears are real.

The third act begins with a somber reincarnation of Shepard’s funeral. The ensemble takes turns singing “Amazing Grace” over and over again.

The chilling scene strikes a chord even with the most immune to violence and hatred in the world.

A bit of humor to this production is needed — to dwell solely on the reality of this crime would be a lot for anyone to handle. But this humor is subtle, never mocking the crime itself or those involved.

The audience has to laugh at the hick bartender, Matt Galloway, on duty the night of the beating. He seems to be like someone anyone would know, the guy on duty who hates himself for looking down instead of up while doing his dishes, as Shepard and his murderers left his bar.

These people are real, the story is real, and the reality of it hits far too close to home.

“The Laramie Project” is not only an excellent production; it is a story that people should see to remember what happened not so long ago. And to think that such crimes are still being committed today, on our own streets, in our own cities, in our own country.

Many remember the day that Matthew Shepard was found; the media would not let us forget at the time. And with a production such as this, Matthew Shepard’s name will live on for some time to come.

“The Laramie Project” runs at the Isthmus Playhouse in the Madison Civic Center through March 30. Half-price student tickets are available through the Madison Repertory Theatre’s ticket office.

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