66 pages • 2 hours readMoises Kaufman
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The Laramie Project is a play by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project in response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, in Laramie, Wyoming. Kaufman and the other company members visited Laramie on six occasions and interviewed residents, members of the police force, and Matthew’s friends, in an attempt to understand what happened, and why. They were also interested in the possibility that theatre, more than any other medium, would allow people to engage with and reflect on the issues brought to public attention by Matthew’s murder, such as homophobia, hatred, intolerance, and fear.
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The play begins with an explanation of the “Laramie Project” and how the play will proceed, with members of the Tectonic Theatre Project voicing those people they interviewed. Throughout the play, these different and often contradictory or conflicting voices overlap, creating a mosaic of perspectives and opinions. The play’s dramatic power is thus created by the tension that exists between the interviewees, and between the interviewees and the theatre company. This tension, in turn, reflects the social unrest caused by Matthew Shepard’s murder and its aftermath.
Rather than scenes, the play’s three acts are divided into a series of “moments,” most of which are internally coherent and focused on a particular group of interviewees or offer a specific perspective on the events. In Act I, we are given some background on Laramie and the lives of LGBT people who live there. The act builds on this material to provide an overview of what happened on the night Matthew Shepard was kidnapped and beaten by Aaron McKinnon and Russell Henderson.
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In Act II, reactions to the discovery of a badly beaten and unconscious Matthew are interspersed with updates about his medical condition. This second section of the play ends with Matthew’s death and the possibility that McKinnon and Henderson will face the death penalty. Act III begins with an account of Matthew’s funeral and the protest staged by the anti-gay Reverend Fred Phelps before turning to the trials of McKinnon and Henderson. The play extends beyond the moment when the verdicts are handed down to consider the long-lasting effects of this tragedy on the people of Laramie, the theatre company, and American society.