Arts

The Laramie Project Seeks Understanding of Hate Crime

“I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life, and may you thank Matthew every day for it.”

—Moisés Kaufman, The Laramie Project

In cooperation with the First Christian Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fullerton, Whittier Community Theatre presents the intense drama, The Laramie Project at The First Christian Church of Fullerton.

Written in 2000 by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Group, this powerful depiction is about the reaction to the actual 1998 murder of 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard. He was savagely beaten, tortured, tied to a fence in mid-October–with no shoes–for more than 18 hours, and left to die. And his crime? He was simply an openly gay college student. The perpetrators were Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson, two young men who tore a town apart by committing this horrific crime.

The members of the New York experimental Teutonic Theater Company, who often delved into social issues, traveled to the small town of Laramie, Wyoming (a quiet rural sort of turn-of-the-century kind of place) on six different occasions over a period of 18 months, to interview and document perspectives from townspeople, friends of Matthew’s, family members, law enforcement, community leaders, and a wide assortment of others. These hours and hours of dialogue in the wake of a murder became The Laramie Project, and people were changed, a community was changed, a state was changed, and the world was changed. In 2009, Congress passed the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Whittier Community Theatre presents the intense drama, The Laramie Project at The First Christian Church of Fullerton. Photo courtesy of Phil Brickey.

Put in the capable hands of Director Phil Brickey, WCT’s The Laramie Project was so well done that it was not hard to think of it as a documentary film, and Brickey’s cast was entirely believable. A company of 12 talented actors portrayed more than thirty or so characters with little more than a bare stage, a few folding chairs, and a few props such as a pair of glasses, a cigarette, headgear, and a jacket.

The troupe absorbed the townspeople’s accents as the characters appeared and reappeared, and the actors completely transformed into those random members of the community as the chilling picture they painted continued to illuminate the violent and senseless murder.

As is the case in most small-town communities, the townspeople were funny, warm, goofy, selfless, hateful, and kind. Their unique personalities tended to take the edge off some of the sorrow over a death that makes no sense.

The actors who bring this compelling reenactment to life are Jahnavi Althal, Richard De Vicariis, Robert Downs, Roxie Lee, Carlos David Lopez, Jay Miramontes, Phyllis M. Nofts, Nancy Tyler, Guy van Empel, Patty van Empel, Maile Walker, and Veronique Merrill Warner.

This ensemble deserved its standing ovation, but Jay Miramontes stood out to me as he transformed from Matt Galloway to Sgt. Hing to the Reverend Fred Phelps.

Another outstanding performance was by Jahnavi Althal who morphed into Romaine Patterson, Zubaida Ula, and Leigh Fonakowski.

By the end of this remarkable production, it’s as though we all knew Matthew Shepard, and we all felt his pain and the pain of his loss.

Director: Phil Brickey; Producer: Steven Sandborn; Co-Producers: Margie Wann and Nancy Tyler; Stage Manager: Margie Wann; Lights and Sound: Suzanne Frederickson; Costumes and Props: Nancy Tyler; Box Office: Vincent Rodriguez.

Held at the First Christian Church 109 E. Wilshire in Fullerton 92832.

Tickets: (562) 696-0600 or whittiercommunitytheatre.org.

Performances run through May 1.

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