Full disclosure: on a road trip to America in 2009, I happened to stop in Laramie for a few days. I stayed one. This little Wyoming university town – the gem city of the plains – became infamous in 1998 when clean-cut 21-year-old student Matthew Shepard was found tortured, beaten and set alight tied to a fence outside town. He died five days later and, partly due to an international media circus (Elton John sent flowers to the funeral), his death turned “gay bashing” to “hate crime”.
Working on interviews and “found texts” playwright Moises Kaufman put together The Laramie Project in order to look at causes of and the local reaction to the crime – we hear from the young man who discovered Shepard’s still-breathing broken body, the barman who served him his last drink, the ER doctor… Some of these comments border on the banal: “hate is not a Laramie value” and with no authorial comment we never really explore the nature of hate of the other in small town America. And nothing is mentioned of subsequent revelations that the case was more complex – not simply random homophobia but a crack deal gone wrong.
The company is from the George Ranch high school in Texas and these are bright enthusiastic kids although often the delivery of the text is a tad rushed. It’s as if everyone is too full of caffeine. This declarative aspect leaves little room for nuance or shifts of mood and the full tragedy of the story is a little lost. The piece is extremely well staged. Directors Rebecca Walters and L Jay Edenmeyer corral the large ensemble cast well.