Erin Gannon ’18
“On November 14, 1998, the members of Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie, Wyoming, and conducted interviews with the people of the town.” This is the opening line of Moisés Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project” and also the foundation upon which the play was developed and is structured.
The Trinity College Department of Theater and Dance performance of the show in Goodwin Theater at Austin Arts over the
weekend of Nov. 17 came at an eerily convenient time for Trinity’s campus. A harrowing, poignant, and disconcertingly true story, “The Laramie Project” is a theatrical compilation of interviews from Tectonic Theater Project’s trip to Laramie, Wyoming, five weeks after the murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming.
Upon walking into Goodwin Theater, audience members observed the cast sitting and walking around on stage, reading indistinct pieces of white paper and occasionally tacking the papers to a large backdrop which, by the time the play began, was near-covered in the white pages. The backdrop served as a projector screen that was critical to the performance’s narrative.
“The Laramie Project” is not written linearly—the story is told in moments that form a semi-chronological but entirely coherent story. The decision by director Barbara Karger to add a backdrop that remained downstage for the majority of the show did not distract from the sensitive and powerful subject matter of the script. If anything, the title slides, videos, and pictures that filled the screen eloquently complemented and supplemented the words being spoken by the cast.
Another unconventional feature of the performance was the decision to split the ten person cast across the 40+ speaking roles. The small cast – James Calabresi ’20, Caroline Cannon ’18, Anya Forsberg ’19, Pieter Hoets ’17, Hayden Mueller ’19, Precious Ogu ’20, Claire Pritchard ’20, William Tjeltveit ’20, Sarah-Kristen Vazquez ’19, and Dayla Whaley ’20 – seamlessly transitioned between roles that were each easily distinguishable despite minimal to no changes in costumes for the actors.
Karger’s directorial decisions pieced together the individual testimonies of Laramie residents to form a single, cohesive, collective experience, in a way that brought the town of Laramie to life like a character in its own right. However, it was the cast that truly brought that experience to life. From the discovery of Matthew Shepard’s beaten body to the verdict and controversial death penalty decision, each member of the cast portrayed a markedly diverse array of characters.
For example, Calabresi soberly led the investigation as Detective Sergeant Hing of the Laramie Police Department, and later broadcasted the news of Matthew Shepard’s passing as Rulon Stacey, the CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital where Shepard was hospitalized, channeling the entirety of the heartbreak of Laramie and the world watching. Additionally, Mueller lightheartedly portrayed Doc O’Connor, a middle-aged local limousine driver complaining about the Wyoming wind, but quickly shifted roles to deliver a heartfelt and grieving plea to the courtroom at Aaron McKinney’s trial, imploring them to grant him life imprisonment for his crime in return of the life Matthew could not live.
“The Laramie Project” came to Trinity in the timeliest of manners. Both relevant and enduring, the performance touched upon issues that were apparent in American society nearly 20 years ago and remain prevalent today. Social conflicts ranging from racism to homophobia have dominated media and societal attention for several months, and “The Laramie Project,” while specifically addressing homophobia, touches upon the larger conflict between hate and acceptance. Trinity’s Theater and Dance Department’s interpretation of Moisés Kaufman’s timeless script delivered important conversations to campus, and inspired the Trinity community to have these discussions.
Erin Gannon ’18