The Laramie Project’ educates Americans on the effects of hate

by Cory Pfister

Many people remember what happened in Laramie, Wyoming, but for those who do not, a play running in Des Moines presently could spell it all out for you.

Matthew Shepard was a gay college student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten with a pistol, strung to a fence in the prairie and left for dead by two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

“When we found him he was covered with blood… the only place there wasn’t any blood is where it seemed he had been crying…” police officer Reggie Fluty, played by Kim Grimaldi said.

“The Laramie Project,” based on the actual events surrounding the Matthew Shepard tragedy, provides a vivid depiction of “the aftermath of murder”.

Written by Moises Kaufman and his brigade of actors, “The Laramie Project” is a compilation of over 200 interviews conducted by the group of friends and family of people involved, townspeople, and authorities of Laramie, Wyoming.

“I liked that they showed the situation from the interviewees’ point of view,” sophomore Kim Lamon said. “It showed that they were real people and not just actors.”

When you enter the Stoner Studio Theatre in the Des Moines Civic Center, the simple yet powerful set, complete with a section of rustic fence, provides a solemn reminder of the events that occurred in 1998.

“The set was a shock. It was very stark and cold,” sophomore Michael Raguet said.

Lamon said, “Since [the fence] was a pivotal part of what happened, you immediately recognized it.”

The first act of the play takes a comical view at the townspeople and provides a basis for the play.

“The people you met in first act showed you that [this murder] could happen anywhere,” Lamon said.

One of the players, Matt Hanify, was a Laramie resident and has hope that the play will benefit the people of his former hometown.

“It’s not entirely negative, but it’s certainly not all sweetness and light,” Hanify told the Des Moines Register “Datebook.”

Like many of the eight member StageWest players, Hanify lends his acting ability to almost a dozen characters in the play including that of the original director, Kaufman.

“The small ensemble cast helps you get to know each character better rather than trying to develop an understanding for each townsperson represented,” Raguet said.

The three-act depiction of a tragic time in American history toys with emotion frequently. The recreation of a candlelight vigil may bring tears and yet the portrayal of townspeople “running around in their all-togethers” could make you burst with laughter.

“I was moved by ‘The Laramie Project’ and I hope if people take one thing away it is education about hate and what happened in our past,” Raguet concluded.

“The Laramie Project” is currently running Feb. 14, 15, 16 and 17. Shows are at 8 p.m. Feb. 14-16 and at 3 p.m. Feb. 17.

All shows are in the Stoner Theatre of the Des Moines Civic Center. Tickets cost $15 and are available at the Civic Center box office or by calling StageWest at (515) 309-0251.