On Stage in Natomas: The Laramie Project

laramieproject

BY TRINA DROTAR
THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

In October of 1998, the university town of Laramie, Wyoming made headlines nationwide when a young man was murdered for being gay.

The following month, Moisés Kaufman and members of the New York based Tectonic Theater Project conducted more than 200 interviews with Laramie’s residents. The result was The Laramie Project, which opened Thursday, March 27 at the Black Box Theatre in Natomas.

The Natomas Charter School did not shy away from the opportunity to present this award-winning work which continues to be one of the most-performed plays in the country. The non-traditional structure works more like a montage or ensemble, bringing together many voices and stories. The main character is Laramie’s residents following the murder of twenty-one year old Matthew Shepard in October of 1998.

While Shepard is at the center of the play, his voice is never heard and he is never seen. What is learned about him, the events of October 7 and the following months comes from the voices and words of people who had contact with him and people who never met him. It is the story of what happened in Laramie, why it happened in Laramie and how the town’s residents react.

Richard Gott directs.

The play is, he said, an “examination of hatred.” Hate, he added, is a living thing that – if fed – will grow.

“It is about freedom and the ability to be who you are in America in the 21st century,” said Gott.

Gott’s changes to Kaufman’s original production include pre-show music, beginning at 6:30 p.m., set in a bar on open-mic night. Leading into the 7 p.m. production is a performance of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man.”

The idea to include the band came from senior Nick Vegas. In addition to familiar tunes, the band performs original music created by Vegas. The accompanying “soundscape,” was also designed by the senior and adds an underlying texture which enhances the thought- and discussion-provoking play.

Gott’s production of The Laramie Project was rewarded with silver for One-Act Play Production at the 2014 Leneaea High School Theatre Festival. The festival is the largest high school drama competition in the western United States. Rebel Samuelson, who portrays Matthew Shepard’s father, was awarded Outstanding Performance in a One-Act Play.

Samuelson is one of the principal actors and is joined by Marcie Maxey as Aaron Kriefels, Devin DeGuyter as Jedidiah Schultz, Aiden Leo as Matt Galloway, Willie Huggins as Doc and Ashley Rosander as Doctor Cantway. Each is a seasoned actor who recently performed in the Natomas Charter School production of Grease under the direction of Karen Pollard, who is producing The Laramie Project.

The minimalist stage set is comprised of three fences that are well-used. The large cast of more than 20 relates Laramie’s history, provides background about the people who call Laramie home and talks about Shepard and his accused murderers. Throughout, much is learned about the people and their attempts to understand what happened.

There is some lightness in the exchanges between residents and there is a deep sadness in the stories others relate. The words are the words of the people and some blame the town and its residents. Some want to show the world that “Laramie is not that kind of town” and others say that “a hate crime is a hate crime.”

Numerous scenes are emotionally charged.

The cast brings alive the voices of Laramie’s residents in the days, weeks and months that followed Shepard’s beating and death, and the students do so with empathy, skill and the apparent desire to answer the underlying question of what the town’s residents did to lead two young men brutally attack another.

Tickets are available for pre-purchase ($10 – $12) or at the box office on the day of the show ($15 – $17). Scheduled performances are at 7 p.m. tonight, March 28 and tomorrow, March 29 as well as April 3, 4 and 5, 2014.


Black Box Theatre is located at 4600 Blackrock Drive.

Comments

  1. Heather Dunn Carlton says:

    Credit Due: The opening night production was exceptional and the cast did a phenomenal job tackling this weighty topic. I was disappointed however to see no note of Chazz DiStefano’s roles in the production, most notably his moving portrayal of Aaron McKinney, one of murderers. Chazz’s also sang the opening song, Ramblin’ Man, and is the person in this article’s photo.

    • Thanks for your note, Heather. The reporter was provided information about principal actors and their roles which she used when writing the article.Failure to mention any of the performers by name was not an intentional slight.

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