Just after midnight on a cold night in October, 1998, Matthew Shepard was strapped to a fence on the plains outside of Laramie, Wyoming, beaten and left to die. It wasn’t until 6 PM that day that he was found, still tied to the fence and clinging to life. He would ultimately succumb to the trauma five days later. His murder, funeral and the trial of his murderers became the center of a media circus due to both the reason for his murder and the insensitive and indecent picketing by Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church outside his funeral. Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay. His death brought incredible scrutiny to hate crimes, eventually making it one of two foundational 1998 events that caused Congress to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009.
In November, 1998 – four weeks after the murder – playwright Moises Kaufman and nine members of his Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie to conduct interviews with townspeople along with witnesses and individuals related to the case. Over the next year and a half, they returned to Laramie several times to conduct over 200 interviews. The result of their work is a deeply moving and breathtaking theater collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.
“The Laramie Project” premiered at The Ricketson Theatre by the Denver Center Theatre Company in February, 2000. Additional professional productions followed, both in the United States and worldwide, along with productions by high schools, colleges, and community theaters across the country. Like they did with Mathew’s funeral, members of Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church picketed various productions of the play with anti-gay chants and signs.
Directing “The Laramie Project” is Charles Michael Moore, whose past directorial credits include productions of “Beautiful Thing,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” and “The Fantasticks.” Hope Dorman is the production’s Stage Manager, Butch Clark is the Lighting Designer, Nic Carter is the Sound Designer, Melissa Walters is the Costumer, the set is designed by Charles Michael Moore and Butch Clark, props are designed and assembled by the Charles Michael Moore with assistance from Melissa Walters and the cast, digital scenic projections are designed by Steven Arnold, and Francoise Sullivan oversees the program and marketing graphics.
The Director has assembled a cast of immensely talented local actors, each of whom play multiple roles in the play. They are Eddie Vance, Debra R. McGuire, Adrienne Wrona, Frank Wirmusky, Dylan Lyles, Dan Guidice, Gale L. Drenning, Brianna Lyn Johnson, Tom Dorman and Stephanie Aston-Jones.
The show’s main sponsor is PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) Mid-Shore Maryland. “Friend-of-the-GCA” Sponsors are Zelda’s, and Jayne and Paul Heckles. Individual donor “Angel” sponsors are Ellen Angelo, Stephanie and Gary Aston-Jones, Susan Bella, Kathy Boyle, Sue Dick, Maureen and Timothy McNeil, Mary Jane Reichart, and Mary Sayres.
“The Laramie Project” opens April 22 and runs through May 8, with Friday and Saturday shows starting at 8 PM and Sunday shows starting at 2 PM. Tickets may be purchased online at www.garfieldcenter.org or by calling the Garfield Center at 410-810-2060 during regular Box Office hours on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 AM to 3 PM.