Few plays in recent years have been more widely presented than “The Laramie Project,” which tells the tragic story of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student murdered in a hate crime. On October 18, 19 and 20, Maine South High School will present playwright Moises Kaufman’s follow-up: “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”
As the name implies, this effort began a decade after Shepard’s 1998 killing. Kaufman and his team returned to Laramie, intending to produce a brief epilogue based on follow-up talks with the people whose initial interviews formed the foundation of the original play.
“What Kaufman realized was that so much had happened that there was good reason to write a complete second play,” explains John Muszynski, Maine South Theater teacher and director. “It’s a stand-alone production that can be understood even if someone hasn’t seen the original.” For theater goers in that category, South will set the stage by opening “Ten Years Later” with comments made in court by Shepard’s father as his killers were sentenced.
Audiences then will hear and see two narrators and 16 actors (who depict some 90 characters) discuss what occurred in Laramie in the ensuing 10 years. Most notable: That some lessons learned in regard to tolerance after Shepard’s murder had either faded or been set aside by some residents. That shift, Muszynski notes, was due in part to a 2004 “ABC 20/20” segment promoting the notion that meth use and a drug deal gone bad played a larger role in Shepard’s death than the proven hate crime verdict.
“People in town then had an excuse and reason for denying that hatred against gays played a role,” Muszynski said. In this production voices from both sides of the debate are heard, including the police who worked the crime and a Wyoming state legislator who surprised Republican colleagues by opposing a proposed ban on gay marriage by saying that such a vote would deny his gay daughter’s very existence.
Muszynski emphasizes that “Ten Years Later” does not force a point of view on its audience and that South’s actors will take care to give an authentic voice to all points of view expressed by those Kaufman interviewed.
All three performances at South will begin at 7:30 p.m. In the week prior to the play, Hawk Pride student leaders will present a lesson on tolerance. Working with Muszynski from the Maine South Fine Arts Department are costumer Lauri McCleneghan and technical director Patrick Sanchez.
Cast members are Giuliana Bartucci, Jeff Czerwionka, Lily Elderkin, Sarah Householder, Elijah Irizarry, Tim Kwasny, Alyssa LaTragna, Bryan Lubash, Drew Mathieu, Elizabeth McCarthy, Elena Sasso, Tess Tazioli, Sarah Thomas, Justin Tomczyk, Zach Wendorf and Ben Wilson. Narrators are Anna Bauer and Katrina Iorio. Assistant Director is Molly Butler and the Stage Manager is Carri Stevens.