Kyle J. Bowman
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into this play. I had heard that it was about a murder of a gay student, by the name of Matthew Shepard, in Laramie, Wyoming. What made me really want to go to it initially was the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church tweeted that they were coming to Alfred to protest it. Fortunately they didn’t show up, but if something can actually make a group like that want to come protest it in a place like Alfred, I want to see it. The funny thing is, they are actually portrayed in the play, protesting Shepard’s funeral. It was a very good play, despite my slight apprehensiveness about its format.
Basically, it is set up less like play and more like a staged reading. It goes through hundreds of interviews conducted by a New York theater company with citizens of Laramie about the issue. They speak with police officers, a limo driver, the owner of the bar Matthew was last seen in, and several other people as well, in order to recount the entire story. It then covers the trial of the murderers and the protest of the funeral. The actors were absolutely fantastic at conveying this. Despite the somber tone of it, they were willing to throw their voices and make a character slightly humorous if they felt like the dialogue fit that. That’s what made me overcome my apprehensiveness of the format, was the fact that the actors put so much heart into it despite it being more like a reading than a play. There was very limited costuming, but I was still able to see each actor as a distinct character, even if they played multiple roles.
With something like this, though, the most important thing to pay attention to is the message. The message of this was very well conveyed, despite it being able to be broken down to a simple ‘don’t be hateful’. The actors showed a town that, in my opinion, had most of its residents more guilty of obliviousness than hate. They were prejudiced, but not discriminatory. They were okay with gay people as long as they weren’t necessarily near them, which almost made me feel sorry for them. When the murder happened, it seemed like most of the townspeople had a resounding “well I wouldn’t do that” feeling, which made them want to just brush the issue away. Monologues like the one by the lead police officer on the case and Matthew’s father were absolutely astounding, delivered in a somber and powerful tone. It was clear that the message was not to be angry with people who are hateful, but know that they merely don’t understand. There were numerous occasions where hateful people were given mercy and compassion instead of further hate. It was a very well done performance, with a powerful and meaningful message.