Playwright: Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris, Stephen Belber. At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 773-728-7529 or www.redtwist.org; $25-$30. Runs through: April 7
A decade after the 1998 Matthew Shepard murder and the documentary drama about it, The Laramie Project, the play's authors returned to interview their subjects again along with people who came to Laramie later. To their shock, they uncovered denials that the death of Matthew Shepard was a homophobic hate crime. Stimulated by a 2004 episode of TV's 20/20, some now believe the murder was a drug deal gone bad, or an out-of-control robbery, or that perps Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were meth-binginganything but gay-bashingall of which were thoroughly disproved by the original evidence and Henderson/McKinney statements.
Although cavalier and untrue, such opinions are real expressions of "the desire for control over memory or over history," as an expert states in the play. A decade on, after experiencing a growth boom, Laramie doesn't want to be regarded as a bigoted, hateful society, or to be known chiefly for the Shepard murder. Citizens cannot deny what happened, so they alter the reality of why it happened. That doesn't make them homophobic, but it means they might not recognize homophobia if it hit them upside the head, which should concern us all.
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later is interesting rather than exciting. It's not an entirely fresh reality check, in part because it spends much time reminding folks of the original conclusions in the case. The show also notes the election of a lesbian to the Wyoming legislature, the unexpected defeat by the legislature of a defense-of-marriage act andabove allthe passage of federal hate-crimes legislation (the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Act). However, the long digression about the Wyoming legislature is linked only indirectly to the Shepard case and seems curiously off-point.
The very skilled director Greg Kolack easily guides his amiable eight-person cast through numerous character changes demanded of each, with strong assistance from lighting designer Christopher Burpee. Even so, the show seems staticnot boring, mind you, but staticin the tiny Redtwist space with audience on either side of the small playing area. One wonders how it might be presented on a larger stage and whether that would make it less of a voice play.
The highlights, perhaps, are prison interviews with Henderson and McKinney. Henderson comes off as sympathetic and remorseful while McKinney is hard-boiled, unrepentant and somewhat devious. Still, Henderson was the enabler whose lack of intervention cost Shepard his life. In a way, they encompass the ambiguities of Laramie then and now, and most other places as well. The show aptly calls itself "an epilogue to The Laramie Project," an addition rather than something entirely new, and one resolved to reconfirm the original conclusions.