Maryville College theater presented “The Laramie Project” Oct. 6-9 in the Haslam Family Flexible Theater at the Clayton Center for the Arts. Free to MC students, the play drew a sold-out audience the night of its premier.
“It was great to know that this play had so much support and appreciation,” said Caitlin Campbell, who played Reggie Fluty. “I think the actors did a good job on presenting the sad, yet very important story of Matthew Shepard and society’s views on homosexuality.”
The play began with a lighthearted feel, as writers, reporters and the director of the soon-to-be-called “Laramie Project” discussed the town of Laramie, Wyo. As the conversation drifted to the religious spectrum and finally the last sightings of Matthew Shepard, the audience reacted to the more serious attitude of the play.
By the time the lights came up for the first intermission, audience members were wiping away tears from the moving monologues student actors Campbell, Jarrett Yoder and Walker Harrison delivered on the finding and treatment of Matthew Shepard.
Campbell’s tearful description of Shepard’s bound hands and bloody appearance had several members of the audience crying right along with her.
“I felt I had a duty to voice Reggie Fluty and Matthew and [Fluty’s] memory of what happened, so portraying her was definitely a challenge as well as an honor,” Campbell said.
The second part of the play began with memories of the homecoming parade at the University of Wyoming and the reflections of those who participated in and viewed the march for Shepard. The moving words of the actors kept the audience’s attention through the swells of tearful monologue and hokey dialogue.
As Dennis Shepard’s speech – read by Mitch Moore – to Aaron McKinney (played by Harrison) came to a close, stifled sobs could be heard from all corners of the audience. Doc O’Conner, played by Chuck Sayne, also moved audiences with his recollection of Shepard’s famous words, “Laramie sparkles.”
The humming of “Amazing Grace” in the background of several scenes brought a sort of spiritual aspect to the tragedy of Shepard’s death, and the cast’s performances were nothing short of tear jerking.
The performances by all of the actors taking part in the Laramie Project captured the emotion and horror of the crime against Shepard. The cast members’ genuine tears and heartfelt acting left no doubt that the preparation for this production had been thorough.
“I think the cast did a terrific job on honoring the fact that we had to say this play correct,” Campbell said. “So much emphasis was put on the fact that since real people said these specific words, we, as actors, had a responsibility to honor these people and their beliefs.”
Posters lined the columns of the CCA denouncing the derogatory use of words such as “gay,” “dyke” and “faggot,” while outside the theater were booths for the MC Gay-Straight Alliance and local PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) members.
Those who attended the play were urged to join these organizations and raise awareness for gay suicide and harassment.