03/12/08

ONE TRAGEDY, MANY VOICES
The Laramie Project weaves a compelling tapestry of stories.

"It’s different than any show I've done before," says Bill Bauman, director of The Laramie Project, this semester’s Moravian College Theatre Company production. Certainly it's a very different show from last November's MCTC offering: The Laramie Project is centered on the beating and death of Matthew Shepard, who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. The brutality inflicted on Shepard because of his sexual orientation, and the effect the shocking crime had on the small community of Laramie, are about as thematically distant as one could get from the musical love story told in The Fantasticks last semester. And that contrast is by design, says the director. "After something so light and frothy, doing a play as serious as The Laramie Project creates a kind of balance."

"It focuses on hate, and how people can hate," says Bauman, describing the show’s weighty subject matter. That alone might make the play an ambitious project, but its structure and staging make the show a truly original experience for both players and audience. Sometimes described as a "theatrical collage," the script was created by playwright Moises Kaufman and his Tectonic Theatre Project. Drawing on hundreds of interviews with the people of Laramie—some close to the tragedy, some simply observing what happened in the aftermath—the play offers three acts of "moments" in which characters talk about the incident and share their opinions. The 20-person cast will portray more than 60 characters that express a wide range of emotions and attitudes. "The show reaches no conclusions," says director Bauman. "It's a presentation of observations and opinions, and with that you can draw conclusions of your own." He also notes that the script skillfully includes moments of humor as well as pathos. "There is humor in the piece; some of it's put there after the darker moments."

The cast includes current Moravian students as well as actors from the wider Moravian community. Along with MCTC veterans, the performance will feature some new faces, says the director. "I have a number of students who've never performed before, never been on stage. They just really wanted to do this so they stepped up to the plate." All the actors will be on stage for the entire performance, he adds; it's a thematic echo of the horde of reporters and media representatives who descended on the town as news of the crime spread. To help the audience keep track of the characters, Arena Theatre will be fitted with four plasma television screens that will display character names and other supporting material. Each show will conclude with a candlelight vigil for hate crime victims followed by a talk back session, during which the audience can ask questions of the cast. Interest in the show has been high on campus, Bauman says. "Quite a number of classes are coming, and planning to use the play in class discussions." To make sure everyone has an opportunity to attend, a preview performance was added for the College community.

The Laramie Project will be performed on March 13 (sold out) and 14 at 8:00 pm, March 15 at 2: 00 and 8:00 p.m., and March 16 at 2:00 p.m. in Arena Theater.

Thomas B. Howard, education director for the Matthew Shepard Foundation, will present "Erasing Hate:  A Community Discussion" on Thursday, March 13, at 4 p.m. in the HUB (UBC Room). More details here.