‘Laramie’ keeps story alive

Photo by Brittany McGrail/brittany.mcgrail@marquette.edu.

When it comes to hate crimes, it’s nearly impossible to find the silver lining. But what began as the tragic, gruesome murder of a small-town gay man has become “The Laramie Project,” a story with an important message: Stop the hate.

The Marquette Department of Performing Arts will present “The Laramie Project” at the Helfaer Theatre, starting tonight at 7:30 p.m. and running through March 6.

The play tells the true story of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in October 1998 because of his sexual orientation. The two men convicted first robbed Shepard before brutally assaulting him and leaving him on a fence to die in the small town of Laramie, Wyo.

Five weeks later, members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, led by founder Moises Kaufman, traveled to Laramie. Over the course of the next year, they conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. From these interviews, they created “The Laramie Project,” an account of the life of the town in the year following Shepard’s murder.

Director Debra Krajec, a professor in the theater department, said she considers the play a “docudrama” because all the lines in it are actual words that people spoke in their interviews. The play itself is the story of what happened to Shepard as told by the people of Laramie, she said. Some of them were close to him, while others had never met him before, but all of them were affected by his death in some way.

Krajec said the true elements of “Laramie” create a different kind of theater experience that involves research by the actors in preparation. Researching via news footage, books, the Internet and even direct personal contact has had a fascinating impact on the cast, she said.

“Some (actors) e-mailed the actual people from the interviews, and one responded with a four page e-mail about how she felt and what has changed and not changed since then,” Krajec said.

She said grappling with the subject matter of intolerance, homophobia and hate crimes has allowed the cast to dig deep into how the play has kept Shepard’s story alive across the country.

Allie Bonesho, a junior in the College of Communication who plays three parts in “Laramie,” said she thinks Shepard’s story is so powerful because it shows people how homosexuality does not and should not define anyone.

“There’s a reason ‘Laramie’ is still put on today,” Bonesho said. “It wouldn’t be if homosexuals had all their rights.”

Photo by Brittany McGrail/brittany.mcgrail@marquette.edu.

In addition to playing Tectonic Theatre Project member Amanda Gronich, Bonesho also plays Reggie Fluty, the police officer who found Shepard at the scene, as well as Shepard’s best friend, Romaine Patterson. Bonesho said playing Patterson has been inspiring because of her positive, peaceful approach to healing from Shepard’s murder.

Krajec, who is also the head of the season selection committee, said “Laramie” has been on the department’s shortlist since December 2009. She said the department chooses to produce one play a year that centers on a social justice topic.

“‘The Laramie Project’ is our choice for this year because the issue of homophobia needs to be talked about on our campus and in our community,” Krajec said.

As a private university, Krajec said she feels Marquette has a long way to go in terms of providing resources for the LGBT community.

Erin Ruckoldt, a senior in the College of Communication and president of Marquette’s Gender Sexuality Alliance, said she was surprised to hear “Laramie” would be performed on such a conservative campus. She said the controversy stirred up by the production, including a rumored protest by the Westboro Baptist Church on March 1, shines light on the LGBT community.

Ruckoldt said she anticipates the play to teach acceptance, a moral of which many Marquette students would do well to take note.

“Look at what horrible things can come about when that doesn’t happen,” she said. “Hate is horrible.”

Krajec said she wants to encourage students to think about what it must be like to feel disenfranchised and treated with inequality. Audience members can anticipate a well-crafted play that shows both sides, as there are people who disagree with homosexuality in the play as well.

“It’s not necessarily a black and white issue, so it’s important to look at it from all sides,” Krajec said. “That’s what we’re taught at Marquette, in order to make a fair assessment of what we believe.”

“The Laramie Project” will run at the Helfaer Theatre from Feb. 25 to March 6. The last show will be followed by “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students, $16 for Marquette employees, alumni and seniors, and $20 general admission. For more info or to purchase tickets, call the box office at (414) 288-7504.