The Laramie Project, director-playwright Moises Kaufman's theatrical examination of a community's response to the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, is expected to begin Off-Broadway previews in late April at the Union Square Theatre, according to sources in the New York theatre community.
Wit closes at that space April 9, and talk in the community has the Tectonic Theater Project's staging of Laramie moving in directly from its critically-acclaimed Denver Center Theatre Company world premiere. DCTC previews began Feb. 19, it opened Feb. 26 and continues there (with tickets still available) to April 1.
Union Square managers Alan J. Schuster and Margaret Cotter could not be reached at press time to confirm the Union Square as site for the New York premiere of the theatrical, provocative drama that has had audiences in tears at DCTC's Ricketson Theatre.
There has been talk that an intimate Broadway house was being eyed for a Laramie run, which would bring the issue-oriented play to a mainstream audience, but that is apparently not going to happen within the current 1999-2000 season.
The docudrama features actor-writers playing the people they personally interviewed in Laramie, WY, following the crucifixion-style murder of Shepard. Issues of bigotry, class, violence, homophobia and stereotyping ricochet in the drama, which has earned rave reviews in national media. The staging, directed by Kaufman, who made his name with Off Broadway's similarly-presentational Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, has even lured the usually theatre-shy broadcast media to Denver to cover the nonprofit production. NBC's "Sunday Today" show is expected to air a segment March 19 and National Public Radio (NPR) will report on the play March 17 on "All Things Considered." The cast and staging are expected to move intact from Denver's velvet walled, jewelbox theatre, the Ricketson, to the Union Square.
Producers listened for audience and critical echoes when the play began its Denver run; when it was embraced, producers swarmed around Kaufman. It was not immediately clear what producers will be attached to a New York run. That news is expected to break March 17.
The presentational world premiere play, based on research and on-site interviews by Kaufman's Tectonic Theater Project, focuses on the aftermath of the 1998 beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, WY. With the use of video, the play occasionally shows "public" responses to the crime, but when the cameras are off, actors turn and reveal deeper feelings, based in their interviews with doctors, cops, residents and others.
The Laramie Project is credited as written and directed by Kaufman and developed with his company of actor- writers. The play does not have Shepard as a character. Rather, it is being regarded as a cultural pulse-taking of the people of Laramie, WY, following the infamous murder, an act that re-sparked debate about hates crimes and homophobia in America.
The company includes Stephen Belber, Amanda Gronich, Andy Paris, John McAdams, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simkins and Mercedes Herrero. Members of the Tectonic company, actors and writers, interviewed folks in Wyoming, who have become characters in the drama. McAdams, Pierotti and Paris appeared in the Off-Broadway staging of Tectonic's Gross Indecency in 1997.
Designers are Robert Brill (set), Moe Schell (costumes) and Betsy Adams (lighting). Peter Golub is the composer.
Kaufman created Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, a hit Off-Broadway and regionally.
Tectonic company members include head writer and assistant director Leigh Fondakowski, associate writers Belber, Pierotti and Steve Wangh. The dramaturgs are Gronich, Paris, Pitts, Simpkins, McAdams, Sarah Lambert and Maude Mitchell.
DCTC artistic Donovan Marley announced The Laramie Project plan in a Denver press conference the morning of Nov. 10, days after the conviction of one of the murderers of Shepard. Kaufman was in the court for the trial.
The work shows a range of attitudes about the beating and crucifixion style treatment of Shepard, who was lured from a bar by men claiming they were gay. He was robbed, beaten and tied to a fence in freezing temperatures. He died days later in a hospital.
One of the men accused in the murder admitted his involvement and was convicted, the other was later convicted. Both will spend their lives in jail.
On Nov. 14, 1998, a month after University of Wyoming student Shepard was killed, playwright Kaufman and members of his company traveled to Laramie and began a series of face-to-face interviews with the people of the town where the story unfolded. Over the next year, the company traveled to Wyoming several more times and conducted more than 200 personal interviews.
For Denver Center ticket information, call (303) 893-4100 or (800) 641 1222.
-- By Kenneth Jones