Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project, the collaborators who traveled to Wyoming and interviewed folks about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, toward creating the unique theatre piece, The Laramie Project, are presenting the Laramie premiere of the show Nov. 28-Dec. 2.
Performances are sold out at the Fine Arts Center on the campus of the University of Wyoming. Gay U of W student Shepard was beaten to death on the outskirts of town, and the crime sparked outrage, debate and mourning around the world.
Although some of those interviewed in the western plains region did see the show in its premiere at the Denver Center Theatre Company in February 2000 and in Manhattan at the Union Square Theatre May-September 2000, this is the first time the documentary-like staging has played Laramie. Many residents are represented in the show and are expected to show up to see how Kaufman, his co-writers and actors present them.
Laramie is the first post-New York staging, and Kaufman, who previously developed Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, is overseeing this Laramie visit. Elements of the original scenic design and some members from the original cast will perform.
Resident productions of the play are expected in the coming months. Kaufman will stage the show's premieres in Berkeley, CA (at Berkeley Rep) and La Jolla, CA (at the La Jolla Playhouse) between May and September 2001. Other productions, not helmed by Kaufman, are also scheduled in Florida, Philadelphia, Seattle and Sydney, Australia. Members of the original cast will appear in Laramie, but some, like Mercedes Herrero, have been cast in other works since the closing of the Off-Broadway production Sept. 2.
Kaufman is currently writing the screenplay for the HBO Film, "The Laramie Project," produced by Good Machine and co produced by Peter S. Cane and Roy Gabay. Casting is currently under way and shooting is set for March 2001.
The Laramie Project was one of the best-reviewed new American plays of the year when it ran May 18-Sept. 2, 2000, at the Union Square Theatre in Manhattan. The good notices came in prior to New York, too, when the piece played a kind of resident tryout (the show's world premiere) at Denver Center Theatre Company in February 2000.
The play, told in a bare-bones storytelling fashion, is a sort of theatrical docudrama about public response to the 1998 murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, although Kaufman said he dislikes the term "docudrama" and cringes at the suggestion that the piece is theatrical "journalism." In the months following the murder, Kaufman and members of his Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Wyoming, interviewed citizens and co-wrote the script. On stage in the original production, in Colorado and New York, actors played themselves, their colleagues and the people of Laramie and environs. The audience is directly addressed in the piece.
An HBO film version is in the works.
Regional theatres and universities are expected to be champing at the bit for rights to stage The Laramie Project, which has a provocative, human subject, a minimal set and eight choice ensemble roles — the sort of serious, intimate work nonprofits thrive on.
For Playbill On-Line's Brief Encounter interview with Moises Kaufman, artistic director of Tectonic Theater Project, click here.
The Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL, will be one of the first regional theatres to stage The Laramie Project, Dec. 31, 2000-Feb. 11, 2001.
Caldwell artistic director Michael Hall will direct Pat Nesbit, Jacqueline Knapp, Mark Rizzo, Michael Warga, Robert Stockle, Kim Cozort, Laurie Gamache and Jason Field, playing various characters — preachers, cops, mothers, friends of Shepard's, bigots, and members of the Tectonic company.
The original production had set design by Robert Brill, costume design by Moe Schell, lighting design by Betsy Adams, original music by Peter Golub, and video and slides by Martha Swetzoff. The cast included Stephen Belber, Amanda Gronich, Andy Paris, John McAdams, Greg Pierotti, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simpkins and Mercedes Herrero. Members of Tectonic Theater Project include head writer and assistant director Leigh Fondakowski; associate writers Stephen Belber, Greg Pierotti and Steve Wangh. The dramaturgs are Amanda Gronich, Andy Paris, Barbara Pitts, Kelli Simpkins, John McAdams, Sarah Lambert & Maude Mitchell.
— By Kenneth Jones