Moises Kaufman's theatrical examination of a city's response to a brutal murder, The Laramie Project, officially opens Feb. 26 in a staging by Denver Center Theatre Company.
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 the public responses to the crime, but when the cameras are off, actors turn and reveal deeper feelings.
Previews for the piece, which is expected to have a staging in New York City within the year, began Feb. 19 in DCTC's velvet-walled jewelbox, the Ricketson Theatre, where Kaufman's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde opened the 1999-2000 season.
The Laramie Project is written and directed by Kaufman and was 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 1998 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, and the subjects are 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.
The Laramie Project continues to April 1.
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 the murderer of Shepard. Kaufman was in the court for the trial.
The work is expected to show 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 Shephard was murdered, 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.
The Laramie Project takes the place of Byrd's Boy, a new work produced in tandem with a New York producer who was not able to find a theatre in Manhattan for the show. Byrd's Boy is postponed until a time when the Denver staging can move right to New York, according to a spokesman.
For ticket information, call (303) 893-4100.
-- By Kenneth Jones