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  WINDY CITY TIMES

A return to Laramie
SCOTTISH PLAY SCOTT
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2012-03-07

This article shared 3591 times since Wed Mar 7, 2012
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Director Greg Kolack is surprised that it has taken more than two years for a Chicago theater company to produce an extended run of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. Now directing a production at the intimate storefront Redtwist Theatre, Kolack feels The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later should get more exposure on its own, but also should be paired with the original Laramie Project.

"These shows have to be presented together," Kolack said, calling The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later more of an "epilogue" or "follow-up" than a sequel.

"Even though [The Laramie Project plays] were written 10 years apart, I still think of them very much as an Angels in America or The Kentucky Cycle where each play stands on its own, but to get the full impact you need to see them both," Kolack said. "That became a bit of a project for me to pitch around to theaters."

Although Redtwist Theatre isn't presenting both plays as full-fledged productions, it is at least producing the first Laramie Project play in a staged reading form on Saturday afternoons. That way die-hard theater fans can see both works in one day the way many have also experienced the multi-play Kentucky Cycle and both parts of Angels in America (which, incidentally, will be staged at Court Theatre March 30-June 3).

Since The Laramie Project debuted in Denver before moving to New York in 2000, it has gone on to be one of the more influential dramas of the past decade. It came about when playwright Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project (best known then for the thoroughly research drama Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde) journeyed to Wyoming and Colorado to interview townsfolk to get their reactions to the widely reported 1998 hate-crime death of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Kaufman and his collaborators' verbatim interviews formed the powerful docu-drama text for The Laramie Project. The play prompted great community discussions and served as a conduit to promote acceptance and tolerance of LGBT people and issues when The Laramie Project saw regional productions around the country and the world.

Yet as the 10th anniversary of Shepard's death approached in 2008, Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project returned to Wyoming to see how the community had (or hadn't) changed in the ensuing years. These interviews formed the basis for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, which had its premiere in simultaneous readings across the world on Oct. 12, 2009, the 11th anniversary of Shepard's death. About Face Theatre teamed up with the Goodman Theatre to present The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later in Chicago.

"People are actually still discovering it," Kolack said, noting that despite the big publicity for The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later in 2009, there has been relatively few productions of it across America. "It surprises me that there are a lot of people, even in theater, who know of The Laramie Project, but don't know the second one exists."

Chicago actress Eleanor Katz appeared in a London staging of The Laramie Project in 2007 at the East 15 Acting School, and she's grateful to be a part of Redtwist's Laramie productions.

"I think it's given us a sense of closure," said Katz about performing both Laramie plays back to back. "We've started with these characters and now we've seen how they've changed and how their lives have been affected over a decade."

However, on the controversial side, The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later focuses on the revisionist takes on Shepard's death that take homophobia out of the equation. It also depicts a disturbing interview with Aaron McKinney, one of Shepard's convicted murderers.

At the sentencing of McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, both were specifically barred from speaking to the press (it was part of the agreement that spared the two from the death penalty). Yet ABC News' 20/20 broke that ban in 2004 with a much-condemned interview with McKinney where he argued that Shepard's murder was not a hate crime, but a drug deal gone wrong.

"The characters from the first one that you think will have a profound change over 10 years, do," said Eleanor Katz. "It's the new characters that come into the second piece that really I think shock you when you hear them because there are rumors that have manifested and have taken the whole murder and what surrounds it into a different and frustrating direction."

On Saturday, March 10, Redtwist Theatre presents a special benefit performance of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later that will benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation. It prominently features a pre-show reception and introduction by Judy Shepard, Matthew's mother.

"I'm really more excited than nervous to meet her," Katz said about Shepard's Redtwist appearance. "I think she appreciates anytime a theater company does one of the two Laramie productions because it's bringing awareness because that's one of the best things about theater is how it can bring about social change."

The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later continues through Sunday, April 7, at Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays with 3 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets are $25 to $30 and $20-$25 for students and seniors. Readings of the first play, The Laramie Project, are at 3 p.m. Saturdays until April 7. Tickets to the reading are $15. There is no late seating.

A special benefit performance of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later where proceeds go to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation is Saturday, March 10. There is a reception at 6:30 p.m., an introduction to the play by Judy Shepard (Matthew Shepard's mother) at 7:30 p.m., and a talkback session led by Susan Burk of the Matthew Shepard Foundation after the show. Tickets $100 for the benefit. For more information on all Redtwist Theatre performances, call 773-728-7529 or visit www.redtwist.org .


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