I have several legacy posts about the Moises Kaufman play "The Laramie Project", about the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard near Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998.
On Friday, Dec. 17 and Saturday Dec. 18, 2010, Langley High School in McLean, Virginia is presenting “The Laramie Project”, by Moises Kaufman, directed by Lauren Stewart and Phyliss Jafee, with members of the Tectonic Theater Project, on the Saxon Stage. I attended the performance this evening. I had substitute taught at Langley as recently as the spring of 2007, so there was a personal sense of déjà vu. The Matthew Shepard Foundation was conducting a silent auction. Thomas Howard, Program Director, conducted a QA. He started by asking the audience in what ways McLean as like Laramie. The audience was silent for a moment, before students started to respond. I mentioned the cloture vote in the Senate on “don’t ask don’t tell” due Saturday, with applause, and said that official attitudes of the Congress and the US military (and the Pope) affect attitudes in general. I may have mentioned here before that I passed through Laramie myself on Aug. 7, 1994 (before the tragedy), the day after I had made the personal decision to write my -Do Ask Do Tell- book and had spent the previous night in Cheyenne. The stage was extremely wide, with the 25 actors (many having multiple roles), spread out, giving very much a -dolby digital- effect. The centerpiece of the stagecraft was the notorious fencepost. The second half of the play was longer and more dramatic, ending with the -trials- (at which the -panic defense-, with some explicit language -- junk -- was brought up). The Fred Phelps demonstration as acted in the play came down the right aisle, and the angels came down the center. The script mentions that Matthew was kept warm for a while by a female deer. Howard mentioned that Kaufman has a sequel script, -The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later- in which it seems many town residents have distanced themselves from the atrocity and see it as a Coen Brothers-movie-style drug deal gone bad. (See Nov. 14 posting for video.)The Laramie Project has this link. Tectonic Theater has this link' The Matthew Shepard Foundation has this link. Howard said that Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church had -threatened- to picket Saturday night in the winter cold (23 F according to my car in the parking lot as I left), but he doubted they would show up.p>Earlier in 2010: Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville MD performed the play The Laramie Project on Saturday Nov. 13, by Moises Kaufman. I saw the play in 2002 (I believe) at the Tectonic Theater Project at the Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, directed by Michael H. Robbins. The play comprises a lot of recitations from townspeople exploring the social factors that led to the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard outside Laramie in October 1998. There are disturbing moments, such as a fear of HIV infection by the medical attendants. The play incorporates an anti-gay protest appearance by the group from Fred Phelps’s Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS. In fact, (and ironically) the group had threatened to protest the play last night but did not show up. Counter protests against Phelps had been planned. Cody Calamaio has a story in the Maryland Gazette. Phelps did not pickett the Minneapolis performance, but he did picket the All Gods Children Metropolitan Community Church in Minneapolis once, I think in 2003. The Tectonic Theater has a YouTube video clip from a more recent performance, from 2008. I visited Laramie in August 1994. There is a review of the film "Fall from Grace" about Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church on the movies blog Oct. 6, 2010.
A more recent effort play by Moises Kaufman is The Laramie Project, presented by the Tectonic Theater Project and recently performed in Minneapolis at the Illusion Theater on the rapidly renewing Hennepin Avenue. The director is Michael H. Robbins. Eight cast members take turns playing various Laramie, Wyoming residents in reliving the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard and the subsequent trial. Shepard himself is never portrayed (compared with the MTV film Anatomy of a Hate Crime). The stage is multi-furcated, with impressive backdrops of the Wyoming countryside (which I visited in 1994) projected as from a film strip. The script does tend to read a bit like a college recitation, with the various issues (homophobia, “live and let live,” smaller town sociology, capital punishment) are explored, and there is not a lot of plot-related tension among the characters as is usually expected in screen or play writing. The medical reports are particularly chilling. The fear of the attending policewoman that she could have become infected with HIV is explored and thoughtfully treated. (I was not aware that Shepard had been HIV+ but it appears that if so it likely would have remained dormant for many years and would have been treatable with the newer drugs.) The by Matthew Shepard’s father statement at the sentencing of the second defendant is most touching.
On Nov. 26, 2004 ABC “20/20” aired an interview by Elizabeth Vargas, in which Russell Henderson and Allen McKinney claim from prison that the murder was motivated more by drugs and money that homohatred, something hard to believe given the details
HBO (with Good Machine) first aired a film version of this play on March 9, 2002. The link is this. The cast included Dylan Baker, Clancy Brown, Tom Brewer, Steve Buscemi, Nestor Carbonell, Mark Webber (from Storytelling, as Aaron McKinney), Joshua Jackson, James Murtaugh. The film is very much like the play: it seems like a docudrama, a sequence of interviews and incidents, and does not have as much impact as the MTV film
The film Anatomy of a Hate Crime, directed by Tim Hunter and Max Ember:
MTV offered this film first on January 10, 2001, on a night dedicated to opposing discrimination. And right off the plate, the most compelling part of this film was Cy Carter-s performance, said by people who knew Matthew to be very true to life as to his demeanor, vocabulary, and personality. He comes across with tremendous charisma and intellectual precision in the first 45 minutes of the film, before the crime and tragedy. He is someone that I believe would have related to me. In fact, I believe that I met him once, about the time I was deciding to do my own book on gays in the military. The narration by Shepard as reincarnated or as a kindly -ghost- is effective in a manner that reminds one of American Beauty.
There are interesting details. For example, the girl-friend of one of the assailants testifies against the killer despite their having had a baby because they never got legally married. There is one scene where Matthew asks for HIV information (for asymptomatic disease), supposedly for a friend. There are a couple of scenes between Matthew and a friend that display an exciting, if reticent, tenderness. There is presentation of Matthew’s fluency in various languages and cultures.
The scenes regarding his two assassins are somewhat stereotyped, almost “heterophobic.” In truth, the film presents the crime as not so much a homo-hatred crime (even given the talk about -rolling queers-) as a -class warfare- crime. The two young men seemed to react like animals who will exert violence against those not only “different” but who also have what they -want- (money, finesse, and, believe or not even in Laramie, a certain sense of privilege and social esteem).
The actual assault scene is mercifully brief, but it contains the kind of chilling shots that marked USA’s re-release of Blood Simple – with the same kind of lower-class -hobo- characters. The last fifteen minutes, dealing with the Wyoming criminal justice system, were too telescoped to really be effective.
Of course, we want to see the studios able to invest in this kind of material on a larger scale, sufficient for a theater release. That is a goal I would like to work on some day.
As for hate crimes laws, I’ll say here that I think that they are a short-circuit or palliative to solving the real problems, which include government-sponsored discrimination, even if they appear in a practical sense to offer “relief” and a counterbalance to homophobia in the law enforcement and criminal justice system. We don’t want to send a message that the surest way to be protected by the law is to set yourself up as a class of -victims.- The law must apply equally to everyone. The law can consider malice and motive behind a crime at an individual level without hate crimes laws, and it did in Wyoming. Go back and read the words of the 14th Amendment, literally.
And, of course, the country has learned that anyone can be a victim of a hate crime.
NBC airs The Matthew Shepard Story on March 16, 2002. (NBC/Focus/Alliance Atlantis, dir. Roger Spottiswood) (Lifetime aired it on Jan. 2, 2007) The NBC movie starred Stockard Channing, Sam Waterson and (as Matthew) Canadian actor Shane Meier. The film was slightly longer (2 hours scheduled air time) than the other time, slightly more narrative in style and a bit less focused. The story presentation is layered, with the current time being the trial and sentencing of the two assassins. The defense attorney tries to bargain with the parents. Then the story of Matthew’s life is told in engaging flashbacks,
Matthew appears to have exuded an unusual charisma and interest in engaging people, especially those older than him, in many kinds of discussion. One incident of interest is when young Matthew quits a retail job after refusing to dupe an elderly customer. He is totally turned off by the greed that seems to drive job performance in the workplace (at least in selling) and his boss thinks he is too “gay.” The campfire scene where he comes out to his parents communicates well the idea that no one understands what it is like to be him, to be different. He would have been a good friend had I met him. Sometimes, as when he lived in Denver, he seemed to come unhinged.
Matthew Shepard foundation.
(Posted: Thursday, March 24, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)