Tragedy, Triumph, and Truth: Mary Baldwin University Theatre Presents The Laramie Project

February 9, 2012

On February 15 at 7:30 p.m. Mary Baldwin University Theatre opens its spring semester with The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project. Dr. Virginia Francisco, who directed the moving Kindertransport last season, takes on this emotional drama. The Laramie Project chronicles the reactions of the people of Laramie, Wyoming to a shocking hate crime — the brutal murder of a gay university student.

In 1998 the beating and murder of Matthew Shepard drew the eyes of the United States to Laramie. During the highly publicized aftermath, the Tectonic Theater Project of New York travelled to Laramie with the idea of putting together a play based on the testimony of the townspeople. Over the course of six visits, their more than 200 interviews included Matthew’s friends; the relatives and friends of the two young men responsible for his murder; the biker who found Matthew, and the policewoman and doctor who tried to save him.

The resulting play has become a famous, moving piece of modern theatre. In a small community like Laramie, which is about the size of Staunton, even the people who did not know Matthew or his family were affected. Their stories will shock you, move you, anger you, maybe even make you cry. In Mary Baldwin’s intimate black box setting, the staging is dynamic, bringing a sense of immediacy to an already relevant play.

Mary Baldwin University actors Kate Given, Aubrey Joyner, Zach Brown, Shane Scezpankowski, Linnea Barklund, and Danielle Guy are joined by community actors Steve Berneking and David Witt to play over sixty characters. We hear from the victim’s father and the murderer’s grandmother. Fred Phelps, pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, whose congregation pickets funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes an appearance, alongside reporters and gay rights activists. Nearly all characters bear the names of Laramie citizens and other actual people, by their permission; exceptions are notable in themselves.

Characters’ words are quoted directly from interviews, court statements, documents, and the Tectonic Theater actors’ journals. Each actor plays several characters, switching costume pieces, accents, and attitudes to transition from doctor to priest, minister to judge, convicted murderer to college student. You can hear actors talk about it after the show — for The Laramie Project, talkbacks will be held after each performance.

Performances are in the Fletcher Collins Theater on the ground floor of Bertie Murphy Deming Fine Arts Center at Mary Baldwin University. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. February 15–18 and 2:00 p.m. on February 19. Tickets can be reserved by calling 540-887-7189 Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. only. Saturday, February 18 call 540-255-5333. Tickets may be available at the door, but the theatre is quite small and sells out quickly. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $7 for students and seniors. Concessions will be sold during preshow and intermission.

Parking is available in Mary Baldwin’s Skyline II parking lot at the intersection of Prospect and Point Streets. Shuttle service is available from the parking lot to the theatre with one day advance request to the box office number listed above.