by Kayla Murphy
If I could describe “The Laramie Project” in one word, it would be “hope.”
Never in my life have I seen such a live, beautifully strong performance that brought tears to my eyes. Thom Delventhal, director of the Laramie Project and Central Connecticut State University’s theatre professor, crafted this piece with such creativity and ingenuity that even after a few days of witnessing the show, I cannot erase the images and words from my mind.
The documentary-play focuses on hundreds of real-life interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theatre Project in 2000, about the reaction to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shephard in Laramie, Wyoming. The murder was denounced as a hate-crime and brought attention to the lack of hate crimes laws in several states, including Wyoming. From journal entries to news reports, the show is divided into two acts with 13 cast members portraying over 60 characters in a series of short scenes.
In light of current events, “The Laramie Project” touched upon many current issues, such as LGBT rights, religion and the use of media coverage. Designed to perfection, from creative costuming to symbolic lighting, the cast and crew of “The Laramie Project” were able to establish a serious message of hope without coming across too political.
There were several scenes throughout this show that tugged at my heart and made me question America’s humanity as a society. Such scenes included where the actors used their bodies to recreate the dreaded fence that Matthew Shephard was tied to, the scene where the cast dressed as angels to block Reverend Fred Phelps from protesting Shephard’s funeral, and the homecoming scene where students waved PRIDE flags and chanted messages of hope.
The scene that spoke to my heart and soul the most was where Aaron McKinney, murderer of Matthew Shephard, faced trial for the death penalty. In this scene, Nick Carrano, who played McKinney, stood center-stage in an orange prison jumpsuit. Surrounding him in a large circle was the rest of the cast dressed in all black with their backs facing him. In unison, they recited the speech that Denis Shephard, father to Matthew, gave to McKinney at his hearing for the death penalty. Here is an excerpt from the speech that sent shivers down my spine and filled my eyes with tears.
“Mr. McKinney, I’m going to grant you life, as hard as that is for me to do, because of Matthew. Every time you celebrate Christmas, a birthday, or the Fourth of July, remember that Matt isn’t. Every time that you wake up in that prison cell, remember that you had the opportunity and the ability to stop your actions that night. Every time that you see your cellmate, remember that you had a choice, and now you are living that choice. You robbed me of something very precious, and I will never forgive you for that. Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.”
After the speech was given, the orange jumpsuit was removed from Carrano’s body and slammed shut into a trunk. In addition to a pair of black leather shoes, representing the shoes that McKinney and Henderson robbed from Shephard. I interpreted this as McKinney being locked away and the love for Matthew Shephard to overcome that hate.
The moral of this story is to always be kind, to show love, humanity, mercy and compassion. Regardless of one’s religion, as a society we must learn to extract the hate from our hearts and accept people for their differences.
As I watched the show, I could instantly see how close and connected the cast was. It was an incredible ensemble piece that displayed the utmost maturity, respect and intelligence towards sensitive topics. Thank you to the cast and crew of “The Laramie Project” for opening my heart, expanding my soul and widening my eyes.