Brown theatre hosts controversy

The latest production from the Department of Theatre and Film, “The Laramie Project,” has elicited plenty of emotion, discussion and controversy during its current run at the Joe E. Brown Theatre. Of course, this is the play’s exact intention, and it is carried out brilliantly by a very talented group of performers.

“The Laramie Project” takes a raw but objective look at the aftermath of the Matthew Shepard case in the town of Laramie, WY. In the fall of 1998, Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten and tortured by two men who disliked his homosexual lifestyle. Shepard eventually died from the injuries he had suffered, and his story remained the focal point of the national media for many weeks. In the process, the small town of Laramie became ground zero in the nation’s ongoing debates over tolerance, religion and concepts of justice.

Inspired by the incredible reaction to the Shepard case, playwright Moises Kaufman and the The Tectonic Theatre Project traveled to Laramie in hopes of uncovering the human element of a real-life drama. They interviewed over 200 people, a number of whom would become central characters in “The Laramie Project.”

“The amazing characteristic of this show is that every word comes from those people,” said Anne Marie Sweeney, telecommunications major and member of the ensemble cast. “Nothing is exaggerated, projected or imagined. What you see is what you get. But the play does well to show all sides of the story.”

With nine performers portraying about six characters each, almost every opinion is given a voice, no matter how offensive that particular speaker may be. But in the end, the final judgments are made not by the players, but by the audience. In this way, the play avoids being preachy and serves mainly as a study of human conditions.

As director Carrie Lee notes in the playbill, “The Laramie Project” reminds us “of the complexity of the human spirit – the depths to which it can sink and the heights to which it can climb.”

Aside from affecting audiences, the play has also had a major impact on its cast, which includes Bowling Green students Matthew Gretzinger, Elizabeth Davis, Julio Alberto Sepulveda, Shelley Nixon, Khary Jackson, James Strunk, Jason P. Suel, Anne Marie Sweeney and Toledo student Cathy J. Skutch.

“My personal experiences with ‘The Laramie Project’ have been extraordinary,” Sweeney said, crediting her director and castmates. “Everybody has just worked incredibly hard, especially the men and women behind the scenes. They never get enough credit. This is really my ideal form of theater; a story with a message of life and the opportunity for social change.”