Students from the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's M.F.A. acting company will be featured in the regional premiere of Moisés Kaufman's Off-Broadway play The Laramie Project. Running from May 23-June 3, the production closes the Playhouse’s season and marks the first time that an entire production is cast with members of the Playhouse’s M.F.A. program. The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park production will be staged at the Marx Rehearsal Hall.
Kaufman’s story comprises insightful, dramatic and exhaustive interviews conducted with the residents of Laramie, Wyoming, the town where a 21 year-old gay student from the University of Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, was beaten and left for dead by two men. Shepard died as a result of the hate crime.
As details of Shepard’s 1998 murder became known, the story became a rallying point within the national conscience. Production notes indicate that “Shepard was kidnapped, robbed and beaten by two men after they learned that he was gay. They lured him from a local bar and drove him to a deserted field where he was tied to a fence and left for hours in near-freezing temperatures. He died five days later.”
Following this, playwright Kaufman and “members of his Tectonic Theater Project commenced on the first of six separate visits to Laramie over the next year and a half.” Kaufman’s group “conducted 200 face-to-face interviews with Laramie residents, including the police officers and prosecutors involved in the case, as well as the many friends, relatives, teachers and even strangers whose lives forever were changed by Shepard's death.” The Kaufman interviews comprise the text for The Laramie Project.
"There are moments in history when a particular event brings the various ideologies and beliefs prevailing in a culture into sharp focus,” Kaufman said in a statement. “By paying careful attention in moments like this to people's words, one is able to hear the way these prevailing ideas affect not only individual lives but also the culture at large.” Directed by D. Lynn Meyers, the artistic director at the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, eight students from the Playhouse's M.F.A. acting company will participate in the Laramie Project. They are Leslie Dock, David Johnson, Mathew Francisco Morgan, Angela Odom, Jane Schrantz, Aransas Thomas, Shannon Michael Wamser and Collin Worster.
Tickets are $15, $5 of which is donated to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, established by Dennis and Judy Shepard to honor the memory of their son, Mathew. A double benefit on May 26 supports both the Shepard Foundation and the League of Cincinnati Theatres. Tickets for May 26 run $30, which includes the show and a coffee and dessert reception beginning at 8, followed by the performance at 9 PM. For tickets call (513) 421-3888 or toll-free in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, at (800) 582-3208. Call (513) 345-2248 for TDD accessibility.
—By Murdoch McBride