The Laramie Project charts an important moment in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in America | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Laramie Project charts an important moment in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in America 

This is a docudrama with the soul of an epic.

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Lawrence Oliver Brown

On October 12, 1998, Matthew Shepard died as the result of a brutal beating by two young men he met at a bar in Laramie, Wyoming, where he was a student at the University of Wyoming. All three—the gay victim and his straight killers—were just 21 years old. Shepard's shocking murder, heavily and controversially covered by the media at the time, led to the passage of federal hate crimes legislation in October 2009 and is a signal event in the history of the struggle for LGBTQ rights in America.

In the months following Shepard's death, director-playwright Moises Kaufman and members of New York's Tectonic Theater Project visited Laramie to interview the townspeople. The result was The Laramie Project, a 2000 docudrama that juxtaposes the facts of the Shepard case with the Tectonic ensemble's own evolving perspectives on small-town America. The actors in the Aleatoric Theatre Company's intimate, bare-bones production play multiple roles—portraying the original Tectonic company members as well as the folks they talked with.

Under Nicholas Ryan Lamb's direction, The Laramie Project charts an evolution of awareness that helps Matt Shepard's ordeal serve as a pathway to redemptive compassion. The play climaxes with Shepard's father's anguished decision to request a life sentence, not the death penalty, for his son's killers. This is complex, multilayered epic storytelling theater in the Brechtian mold—but in Aleatoric's simple, honest rendition, it's deeply moving in a way one doesn't associate with Brecht.   v

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