Harmony Creek Theatre presents ‘Laramie Project’

Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, died Oct. 12, 1998 having been brutally beaten in an anti-gay hate crime. His story fuels acclaimed drama “The Laramie Project,” presented Feb. 10-12 at Kettering’s Harmony Creek Church. CONTRIBUTED

caption arrowCaption
Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, died Oct. 12, 1998 having been brutally beaten in an anti-gay hate crime. His story fuels acclaimed drama “The Laramie Project,” presented Feb. 10-12 at Kettering’s Harmony Creek Church. CONTRIBUTED

Nearly 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, lost his life as a victim of a brutal anti-gay hate crime after being attacked and tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard’s story will strike an emotional chord once more as the Harmony Creek Theater of Harmony Creek Church presents the acclaimed 2000 drama “The Laramie Project” beginning Friday, Feb. 10.

Written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, “Laramie Project” is structured as a reactionary series of colorful, blunt and introspective interviews conducted by Kaufman and company members. Themes of homophobia and discrimination are explored as varying perspectives fuel the play, which encompasses more than 60 characters and ultimately brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws in various states. Organizers feel the play is ripe for retelling in light of today’s divisiveness.

“What’s so unnerving about ‘Laramie Project’ is that it’s still powerful and relevant,” said director Thomas Cole Schreier, memorably menacing last season as St. Jimmy in Dare to Defy Productions’ presentation of “American Idiot.” “It’s been almost 20 years since the tragedy, but things haven’t improved. In fact, they have worsened. It terrifies me that the hatred and fear based around the lives of LGBT people has intensified. Now, this may be due to the evolution of media, but how many lives were so tragically taken before Matthew?

“I’m doing this show to educate. I want to bring Matthew into the hearts of those too young to know or to soften the hearts of those hardened by age. This show is a conduit for compassion and I hope I do justice to these beautiful words from the mouths of real people.”

“The things (that) happened to Matthew are still happening now,” echoed Jamie Pavlofsky, whose roles include University of Wyoming professor Zackie Salmon. “People are still intolerant and bigoted and unfortunately turn to violence to deal with their confusion and lack of understanding of those who are different.”

“I think this story is still relevant, as there seems to be an implied permission to hate these days, (meaning) if you’re different from me, I have the right to hate you,” added Rick Flynn, a standout last season in Dayton Theatre Guild’s productions of “The Columnist” and “Night Watch.” “Matthew’s story reminds us that good can come from evil.”

Flynn also admits to embracing the challenge of playing Fred Phelps, the controversial pastor of Westboro Baptist Church who picketed Shepard’s funeral with his congregants.

“The only nugget I could hold onto in building the character is (grasping) that (Phelps) feels it’s his duty to call out sin where he sees it,” Flynn said. “He’s passionate about his beliefs and doesn’t understand why others don’t see it that way. ‘Laramie Project’ is still such an important story that I felt like I had to be a part of telling it again.”

The cast includes Janelle Chamness, Naman Clark, Matthew Clifton, Samantha Creech, Jess Evans-Skudlarek, Carrie Fahnestock, Jesse Magill, TJ Montgomery, Brennan Paulin, Hayley Penchoff, Michael Schumacher, Jen Skudlarek, RJ Steck, Angie Thacker, and Ella Wylie.

“We as a society have yet to realize our mistakes that history is teaching us,” said Montgomery, whose roles include University of Wyoming theater student Jedadiah Schultz. “This show proves the importance of standing together against hate.”


WANT TO GO?

What: "The Laramie Project"

Where: Harmony Creek Church, 5280 Bigger Road, Kettering

When: Feb. 10-12; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Next Sunday

Cost: $12 reserved; $15 at the door; $10 seniors and students

Tickets: Call (937) 434-3941 or visit harmonycreekchurch.org

About the Author