Famed Murder Case is Backdrop for Play Examining American Violence

NEW PALTZ — New Paltz Summer Repertory Theatre takes an unflinching look at the question of tolerance in America with the production of The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman, which runs in the university’s McKenna Theatre from June 27-July 13, 2003.

The story behind this widely hailed play is well known: In the fall of 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was picked up in a Wyoming bar by two young men, driven out of town, brutally beaten, and left to die. The case earned national headlines for months, but Kaufman’s examination of the crime goes beyond the sensational events, focusing instead on the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming, and their shifting views toward homosexuality, education, class, violence, and the differences between tolerance and acceptance.

“In this play, Laramie serves as a microcosm of the global community,” says Frank Trezza, co-producer of New Paltz Summer Repertory Theatre. “The town is symbolic of every community that is in conflict with itself, torn by prejudice, hatred, and violence.” Summer Repertory, he adds, seeks to teach as well as entertain, asking audiences to question themselves and their beliefs.

The Laramie Project, which was praised by The New York Times for articulating a pageant of emotions-from anger and sorrow to bewilderment and hope-is based on a series of 200 interviews conducted with the citizens of Laramie by members of the Tectonic Theatre Project in New York. The original actors traveled to Wyoming six times over two years, pursuing a deeper understanding of the Shepard murder and its implications.

Through the voices of Laramie’s real-life citizens, Summer Repertory Theatre actors create a kaleidoscope of characters, reminiscent of an updated version of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town. This is an ensemble production, in which each performer plays many characters, stepping forward with only a prop or gesture to assume a new role. Viewers meet the bartender who saw Matthew Shepard being picked up, the bicyclist who later found him unconscious, the officer who was first on the scene, various local ministers, acquaintances of the two men eventually convicted for the murder, and Matthew’s father, Dennis Shepard.

The writers and performers have dug deep into their examination of American society, but behind this lies another inquiry about the role of contemporary theatre. The play asks, essentially, “Is theatre a medium that can contribute to the national dialogue on current events?” Across the country, audiences of The Laramie Project have responded with a resounding, “Yes.”

Performance Schedule: June 27 8pm June 28 8pm June 29 2pm & 7:30pm July 3 8pm July 5 8pm July 6 2pm July 10 8pm July 13 7:30pm

Tickets are $14 general admission; $12 for senior and students. New Paltz Summer Repertory Theatre Box Office is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and one hour before show time. Call 845-257-3880. McKenna Theatre is wheelchair accessible and equipped with an assisted listening system for the hearing impaired.

Images are available at http://www.newpaltz.edu/news/images/laramie1-72-06-03.html

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