Decade-old tragedy retains its relevance
By Andrea Warner
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder, a violent homophobic hate crime that brought international attention to the small Wyoming town immortalized in the affecting but flawed play, The Laramie Project.
Written by Moisés Kaufman and members of New York’s Tectonic Theatre Project, The Laramie Project is a patchwork quilt of quotes from the company members’ own journal entries, their interviews with town residents, and published news reports. Its three acts recount the discovery of Shepard’s nearly lifeless body, the aftermath of his death, the arrests of two young men for the murder, and their subsequent trial a year later.
The cast stumbles in places (a few forgotten lines and some “Well, golly!” accents), but several shine brightly, adeptly conveying real people affected by a horrific crime. Matt Clarke moves fluidly between each of his characters, and is particularly charming as Jedediah Shultz, a college student, and Matt Galloway, the wordy bartender who was one of the last people to see Shepard alive. Jean Nicolai gives a strong performance as the plucky yet stoic police officer who was first on the scene when Shepard was found.
Ultimately, the play suffers from weak script editing; Kaufman’s decision to highlight certain characters seems like an indulgent desire for “local flavour” at the expense of characters who help move the story forward. Director Ryan Mooney could have also used a firmer hand in deciding how to adapt Laramie for Havana’s small stage (the actors were routinely under-lit or about a foot away from their spotlight). Mooney’s biggest mistake is his gratuitous use of music, an unnecessary manipulation given that the power of this play is in its words.