Laramie Project Packs Up in Denver April 1, Readies for NYC

News   Laramie Project Packs Up in Denver April 1, Readies for NYC Following weeks of standing ovations, the world premiere of The Laramie Project by the Denver Center Theatre Company in association with the Tectonic Theater Project wraps up its regional stint with sold out final performances April 1.

Following weeks of standing ovations, the world premiere of The Laramie Project by the Denver Center Theatre Company in association with the Tectonic Theater Project wraps up its regional stint with sold out final performances April 1.

A DCTC spokesman said standing ovations lasting 3-5 minutes have accompanied the curtain calls of the Moises Kaufman's three-act docudrama about a community's response to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shephard.

Producer Roy Gabay is transferring the Tectonic staging to Off Broadway's Union Square Theatre for previews beginning April 26. Official opening for The Laramie Project in Manhattan is May 18, with the same cast and design elements that appeared in Denver's 250-seat Ricketson Theatre.

The staging was a virtual sellout at DCTC, fueled by word of mouth and strong reviews and national media. The final week beginning March 28 was completely sold out. Some scattered seats went unsold for the run.

* DCTC previews began Feb. 19 and opened Feb. 26. The script debuted in time for the Pulitzer Prize consideration, but it was unclear if it would be eligible since Kaufman is not American. The script, however, is co written by Kaufman's Tectonic colleagues, who are American. The Pulitzer Prize for Drama (if awarded this year) is expected to be announced in mid April.

The docudrama features actor-writers playing the people they personally interviewed in Laramie, WY, following the 1998 crucifixion-style murder of Shephard. 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 and National Public Radio (NPR) reported on the play.

Producers listened for audience and critical echoes when the play began its Denver run; when it was embraced, producers swarmed around Kaufman.

Tickets for the open-ended New York City run went on sale March 29. Call (212) 307-4100 or (800) 775-4000 for information. The Union Square box office for in-person sales opens April 14.

Preview tickets are $40, with same-day, first-row rush seats at $20. Regular performances are $55, with $25 rush seats.

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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 Shephard 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 Shephard 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.

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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.

-- By Kenneth Jones