It’s been 15 years since Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student, was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyo.
And 13 years since Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project premiered “The Laramie Project,” a play pulled from interviews with community members in the aftermath of the crime, which many consider to be a direct result of Shepard’s sexuality.
Since then, rights for gays and lesbians, including the right to marry, have gained traction across the country.
So, does a staging of the play still hold relevancy today?
Absolutely, says Nancy Davis Booth, who is directing the student production at Pima Community College. It opens today.
She pointed to the heckling actors received from audience members in a production at the University of Mississippi early last month. Anti-gay slurs were hurled at the performers; many of those hurling them were football players from the school attending the play as a class assignment.
“It was awful,” said Davis. “You would think we would be more enlightened. Part of me thinks we’ve come a long way. The other part ...”
One way to combat the discrimination, she said, is to “keep telling the story of Matthew Shepard. We have to keep retelling it to remind us that we need to be better people.”
“The Laramie Project” features a cast of 14 portraying the people in Laramie, speaking the words they told to the playwrights. It’s a powerful story of the impact of a hate crime on that city. But the power of the play is it could be any city; it speaks to all of us.
At the time of the trial for the two young men who killed Shephard, there were testimonies and stories that the murder was a result of Shephard’s homosexuality.
Since then, some have said that the crime was motivated not by hate, but by drugs. Last month, a book was published disputing the killing as a hate crime.
That doesn’t lessen the impact of the play, Davis says.
“They raged, and that is hate coming from a very deep, primal place for these men,” she said of the two convicted of the crime.
“In the long run, a boy was kidnapped, tortured and murdered. We’ll never really know why; there probably isn’t one single cause. But that doesn’t negate what they did.”