By Madison Petro
“I didn’t expect to cry so much.”
Similar words were floating around the audience of the small black box theatre in Fine Arts two weeks ago. Some audience members attempted to hide their tears behind sniffles during intermission of ESU Stage II’s production of “The Laramie Project.”
This documentary-style play is compiled from interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theatre Project of Laramie, Wyoming residents. It follows the events surrounding the beating and murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student.
The production was entirely student-run as part of Stage II, the theater club on campus.
“It’s not my play,” said senior Nick Kwietniak, who also directed the production. “It’s our play.”
According to Kwietniak “our play” did not only refer to the cast and crew of the production, rather, it referred to the community and the world as a whole.
Considering how much our society today is filled with hate speech and acts of violence, the events in “The Laramie Project” hit home for many.
The day before opening night, an extremist Christian group protested in front of Dansbury, spreading messages of hate toward anyone they viewed as “sinful”, especially the gay community. The cast and crew of “Laramie” saw this as an opportunity to take action. They donned their production t-shirts and blocked the protestors with prop angel wings. This opportunistic counter-protest mirrored that of a pivotal scene in the production when Romaine Patterson, played by Marti Goodfellow, staged an identical counter-protest with fellow Laramie residents.
In the production, each of the actors played multiple roles based on real people.
“You’re five or six characters,” said junior Dianara Vazquez, who played six characters in the production. “So you have to give your all to it and develop each character in every single way, even when they only have a few lines.”
The actors did well developing each individual character overall, although some characters were not developed as well as others. Even so, some of the most memorable characters were only in one scene. Two characters that left a strong impact were Matthew Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, played by Matthew Namik and Jenna Worrel. Namik and Worrel brought an intense depth to their performances, mourning the loss of their characters’ son.
Many actors transitioned quickly between roles by changing their demeanor and only a few minor costume pieces. One of the most notable character transitions occurred early in the play. Actor Sydney Gates switched into April Silva’s character by swinging a backpack over her shoulders and wearing a dreary expression.
“Laramie is better than where I grew up, I’ll give it that,” Gate’s said before walking offstage.
Gates’ portrayal of Silva was one of the occasional comedic moments sprinkled throughout the tragic events of the show.
Of the technical elements in the production, the projections stood out the most by standing out the least. Among the minimal set pieces that the actors moved in scene transitions, the only stationary pieces were five empty frames hanging disorderly on the wall. Within many scenes, photos or videos were projected seamlessly onto frames to enhance the setting, never intruding the scenes.
For example, during the anti-gay protest scene, the frames became picket signs with words of hate and during church scenes, the frames became a stained glass window.
A recurring projection was that of a heartbeat monitor during the three health updates on Matthew Shepard. These projections were particularly powerful because the audience knew the monitor would eventually flat line, but not exactly when.
Although the events in the play are in the past, the message of “The Laramie Project” still stands strong: in the light of hate, spread love.
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