It has been almost 20 years since the brutal murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. Shortly after Shepard’s death, the Tectonic Theater Company interviewed residents of Laramie to examine the American psyche within the community.
From these interviews and another series of interviews 10 years later, the Company created the poignant two-in-one play, “The Laramie Project Cycle.”
Walking into the black box performance space at the Access Theater, audience members almost feel as if the play has already begun. Matthew Shepard lays slumped on the floor, his hands tied to the bottom of a fence. This initial scene is striking, and the audience’s discomfort is foretelling of the difficult story ahead.
“The Laramie Project Cycle” almost exclusively consists of interviews, bringing audiences to the epicenter of the tight-knit community in Wyoming. In addition to our silent protagonist, Matthew Shepard — an artistic choice by Director Natalie Zito — there are 10 actors who weave in and out of 60 roles.
While their rapidly-changing identities can sometimes confuse the audience, the actors’ commitment to these voices makes for extremely convincing personas.
However, the director’s artistic choice of Shepard’s physical presence and contemporary dance-like movements feel very distracting. The physicality of his character seems unnecessary since his spirit is felt throughout the memories and conversations read about him.
“The Laramie Project Cycle” is very relevant to today’s societal and media dilemmas. The play’s wide spectrum of opinions shows how the country was and still is oblivious to the vast magnitude of hate present today.
The “Ten Years Later” section of the play asks for remembrance and honesty. In an attempt to recover, the city of Laramie has tried to forget about Matthew Shepard, removing lingering aspects of his life. Because the crime in the community’s vernacular and media obfuscation was erased, some people even deny that the murder was a hate crime.
One of the most significant messages imparted by the project is how all of the characters involved were products of society. The hatred or love they felt was rooted in culture, and communities require dialogue in order to understand and eradicate that hate. The portrayal of universities as a safe bubble within Laramie will especially resonate with students.
Despite audible interruptions from the dance studio above the theater, “The Laramie Project Cycle” is worth seeing. While lengthy — clocking in at almost five hours — the play’s two parts — original interviews and 10 years later — can be experienced on separate days, which is highly recommended.
The Wandering Theatre Company’s “The Laramie Project Cycle” is running at the Access Theater through March 4. Tickets can be purchased here.
Email Annaluz Cabrera at [email protected]