Review | The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later

When 21-year-old Mathew Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, the victim of an unspeakable hate crime, it shocked the nation and left Laramie unraveled in the midst of a media maelstrom. Forced to both pick up the pieces of their lives, contend with the atrocities that had occurred in their town, and deal with the realities that rampant homophobia and ignorance had wrought, Laramie became and still stands as a symbol today.

Moises Kaufmann and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project, just four weeks after the death of Shepard, went to Laramie and interviewed residents of the town as well as those who worked closely on the case. Using snippets from these interviews as well as news reports, courtroom transcripts and journal entries of the theater company, Kaufmann crafted The Laramie Project and gave a voice to the town, and to a moment in history when hate crimes still had yet to be addressed at the Federal level.

What makes The Laramie Project and its companion piece, The Laramie Project 10 Years Later so poignant is the fact that the dialogue, events, and cast of characters are rooted in reality. This also makes The Laramie Project andThe Laramie Project 10 Years Later a challenge to perform because the actors are playing many different characters.

Uprising Theater Company has ambitiously undertaken both productions, and you can see The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project 10 Years Later with shows running through November 17th at the Howard Conn Theater. Directors Sarah Catcher and Ashley Hovel along with a small ensemble cast masterfully take on the tough material of The Laramie Project and bring it to 2018. Even though the events of the show took place 20 and 10 years ago respectively, the subject matter has lost none of its relevance, and in fact, there is still much we can learn from the people of Laramie, Wyoming.

10 Years Later shows how quickly we are to paint over the past and try and discard painful truths in place of a narrative that is easier to swallow. The theme of changing the narrative of Shepard’s story from a hate crime to a robbery gone bad is one that the cast of Uprising tackles head-on.

The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project 10 Years Later are ensemble pieces, and so there was no lead or cast member who outshone the others. Every cast member brought something powerful to the stage, but within the ensemble, there were some notable performances. Seth Matz played both perpetrators Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson as they were interviewed in prison (both men are currently serving life sentences). Matz’s performances as the remorseful Henderson and the chillingly unashamed McKinney were portrayed with surprising restraint. Bruce Manning’s performance as the lead investigator and the priest who regularly wrote to McKinney and Henderson will stick with you after the show.

Uprising Theater Company also works with several community partners for each production in hopes to facilitate change within the community. After each performance, you can also participate in a talkback about the show and what The Laramie Project is still teaching us all these years later.

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