Laramie: A Legacy was a theatrical event like no other. Monday night’s staged reading of The Laramie Project was intended as benefit for the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the Tectonic Theater Project and featured a host of screen and stage stars. A reception was hosted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.
The 2000 play recreated — through hundreds of interviews conducted by Tectonic – the savage beating and death of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Conducting the cast was the show’s founding father and playwright, Moisés Kaufman (the show was co-directed by Jimmy Maize), and appearing without fanfare were the guiding lights of the foundation, Judy and Dennis Shepard, Matthew’s parents.
The show is emotional on its own merits. But, set against the developing story of two men sent unconscious to the hospital just the day before after an ant-gay assault in Brooklyn, the already somber proceedings took on a ghastly pall. And when it came time for the climax, where Dennis Shepard recommends the court spare the life of his son’s murderer, everything came to a standstill.
That’s when Dennis Shepard strode onstage to read again what he said at the sentencing hearing nearly 20 years ago. Those assembled gasped in unison.
The cast was led by Tectonic’s originators with help from actress Mary-Louise Parker, Pose star Billy Porter, internet sensation Randy Rainbow and Samira Wiley — who a week ago won an Emmy Award for her work on A Handmaid’s Tale, and also featured the acting debut of Olympic skater Adam Rippon.
After the show, here’s what Samira Wiley had to say:
At one point in the play, a muslim woman talks about how many of the Laramie, Wyoming residents shook their heads ruefully at the time of the murder and said that such things don’t happen in a place like this. But they did, she counters, so yes it is a place like this.
Tragically, with the tacit permission granted by the current Oval Office occupant and his administration, gay bashings are on the rise. There’s an implicit shrug of the shoulders when women stand up to say they’ve been sexually assaulted by a man who wants to make his will part of the Supreme Court of the United States. And on it goes.
Matthew Shepard’s murder was not the end of anti-gay violence, just as Barack Obama’s two terms as President did not end racism.
The Laramie Project is still one of the most frequently performed plays in America and often seen around the world and remains a clarion call for justice, compassion and understanding. What seems clear at this moment is that, two decades after Matthew Shepard’s death, technology has moved briskly along. Man’s inhumanity to man? Stubbornly the same.
Last modified: September 25, 2018