At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
An Ignominious Anniversary Gets a Nuanced Observation.
The fence has been removed. The Fireside Lounge has been sold and renamed. The town of Laramie, Wyoming has been slowly erasing its ignoble history and moving on. But not always forward. Entropy and fatigue have eroded the past and the certainty that came with once insurmountable facts. The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later takes audiences a few short years back to 2008 and the infamous town where “hate crime” got a face. There, it explores the concepts of change. Those who want it, and those who would rewrite history to protect a comforting self-image.
Told in the form of journal entries, transcripts and recorded interviews from the original Tectonic Theater Project, Laramie is a bracing and emotional journey that takes time to look at several facets of an event that tore a hole in the American fabric. Those interviewed had a decade to make sense and nonsense of the unspeakable. By then, truth and fiction had been blended by blind rumor and “reputable” sources. In 2004, 20/20 revisited Laramie with a sensationalist agenda to turn a crime driven by homophobia into a more manageable story of drugs and a robbery gone wrong. Their intent was exposed and debunked, but the ripple effect of that event caused a whitewashing of the 1998 tragedy. A more protectionist narrative took hold, one that removed the backwater stigma that Laramie had endured since becoming the inadvertent hate crime capital of America. As one folklorist puts it, Laramie simply wanted (and wants) to take back control of its history with the power of rumor.
Fallout from events like those in Laramie create a tear in societal fabric. Laramie is an in-depth exploration of how a community exposed to terror and infamy tries to repair that rip, even if it shouldn’t. Each of the eight cast members takes a turn becoming professors, town members, a priest, legislators, law enforcement, his parents and in a harrowing feat, the killers themselves. Their voices range from sympathetic to accusatory, angry to exhausted, exploring an American complacency shattered and now seeking to reign again. It has many lessons to teach about the nature of hate, acceptance and painful change.
A demanding script is more than met by the diverse ensemble, flickering in and out of personae, accents and emotional states with a seeming ease. Minimalist costume alterations and a set of only eight chairs magnifies the emotions on display. Each member gets to take a turn at some facet of the story. Perhaps most poignantly, one of Matt’s friends reminds us that there are in truth two people in the public discussion—Matthew Shepard, the face of hate crime; and Matt, the slip of a lad who was a good friend, brother and son, who passed away under monstrous circumstances on a random night.
It could have happened anywhere, but it happened there. It could have happened to anyone, but it happened to him. It could be ignored and dismissed under the weight of a decade of fatigue, or it could still be the catalyst for change that America still so desperately needs. Stories like Tyler Clementi’s and countless other stories of bullying demonstrate we’re in danger of backsliding. Martyrdom—requested or forced—requires that those left in its wake take up the mantle of the worthy cause. Laramie is a moving and honest drama that looks unflinchingly into an uncomfortable anniversary. It galvanizes a forgetful world, reminding us that the journey into the future begins only when we can fearlessly acknowledge the past.
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2012
For more info checkout The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later page on www.redtwist.org
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL; call 773.728.7529 or visit www.redtwist.org; tickets $25-30 (student, senior discounts available); performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm; running time 110 minutes with 10 intermission; through April 7.