Investigating officer Sgt. Hing tells the audience, as does an average citizen named Marge, that Laramie, Wyoming, is a “live-and-let-live” kind of place, a town where no one would be hurt or assaulted for being different.
That’s why they find it so hard to believe that in October 1998, a University of Wyoming student named Matthew Shepard, who was gay, was found beaten, tied to a fence and left for dead. He did die, after five days in a coma.
In the aftermath of his death, members of the Tectonic Theater Project visited Laramie to interview dozens of people, among them: the police officer with cuts on her hands and worry on her mind that she might have contracted HIV from contact with Shepard’s blood; medical personnel and clergy members; a limousine driver and a bartender; a college professor; the men accused of the crime and their friends.
You can hear what more than 70 of these people had to say as Keystone College in LaPlume and The Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock combine forces to bring “The Laramie Project” to their respective stages this weekend and next.
“People are going to recognize a lot of these characters and think, they sound like my boss or my neighbor or someone at the grocery store,” said Jennifer Jenkins from the Dietrich, who is sharing the duties of director with Jane Julius Honchell from Keystone. “Laramie isn’t much bigger than Tunkhannock or Factoryville. The first thing people saw when they came into Laramie was a Walmart. If you’re coming in here from the south, you’ll see a Walmart.”
“I love the piece,” Jenkins continued. “It’s a play about tolerance. Sometimes people don’t realize they’re being hurtful. When we talked about this (as a cast) people said, well, that couldn’t happen here …”
Which of course is what people like Sgt. Hing and Marge from Laramie had thought.
“It’s a true story, in the words of actual people,” Jenkins said, adding she’s hoping large audiences will see and want to discuss the production, which “barrel(s) head-on into the issues of prejudice, intolerance, justice and small-town life.”
Dr. Marnie Hiester, professor of psychology at Misericordia University, and Dr. James Calderone, professor of social work at Misericordia University, will lead a discussion with the cast and crew after the final performance on April 13 at the Dietrich.