By Sean-Edward Hall
Playhouse On The Square is bringing The Laramie Project, another relevant, non-traditional theatre piece to it’s stage this weekend for one weekend of performances only. Last year, they produced The Exonerated, the true-life stories of 6 wrongfully accused people who eventually find freedom after being on death row. Rich and Laurie McCoy said that it was works of drama like The Exonerated and Laramie they wanted to continue to bring to Jacksonville audiences. They want to educate, as well as entertain.
The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project, is the true story of the town in Laramie, Wyoming where the young man, Matthew Shepard, was beaten in October 1998 for being gay and left tied to a fence to die. It’s not a simple re-telling or a re-enactment of the events, but the story about the town and their personal reactions after the horrific act occurs. In November of 1998, Kaufman and his theater group traveled to Laramie and returned six times over the course of the next year and a half and conducted over two hundred interviews and sourcing more information from journal entries, letters, police reports, and other archival documents . The play, however, is about the people. The cast of characters top out over 60 individual people. Playhouse is using just 25 actors to bring these people to life, which means that each of them will be playing more than one character each.
An actor may play Officer Reggie Fluty, who was called to the scene when Shepard’s body was found, and who describes to the audience how the only parts of Matthew’s face that weren’t covered in blood were the parts where his tears had washed it clean. Another actor might join two other actors to transform themselves into teenagers. The cast play the actors interviewing Laramie residents or they play an evangelical priest who hopes Shepard had time to think about his lifestyle as he lay dying, or they become Romaine, Shepard’s friend, who organizes an angel protest to silence the voice of hate preacher, Fred Phelps. The actors also re-enact key moments in the case, like the statements made to the press by the COO of the hospital where Shepard died, and the trial where Shepard’s killers were sentenced to life in prison. The Cast includes: Brad Barnes, Brad Besson, Brandon Coniglio, Michelle Dearing, Meredith Durall, Madelyn Garrett, Carly Holmes, Julie Krol, Gabe Knott, Jesse Lash, Laura Maruna, Kelsey McFarren, Dale Osbourne, Adam Porter, Nancy Taylor Porter, Chris Proffitt, Roy Pyers, Mike Schneider, Kim Shafer, Kory Shepard, Drew Stroud, Marilyn Webster, Jan and Tony Williams and is directed by Sean-Edward Hall.
The play is being presented in a Staged Reading style and will be performed March 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and March 15 at 2. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Our Town Books or by calling 217-491-3977. There will be a “Talk Back” time after each performance for those who’d like to stay for a question and answer period.