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See for Yourself: Laramie Project Is A Beautiful Play

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When all the hurt feelings, reactive news coverage and anger over the incident involving the Oct. 1 performance of The Laramie Project have faded away, a lasting memory will remain for me — a beautiful play.

Beautiful may sound like an odd word to associate with a play detailing the brutal 1998 kidnapping and murder of a University of Wyoming college student on the outskirts of Laramie. But I found much that was beautiful in the searing drama I attended as part of a nearly packed house at Meek Auditorium Oct. 3.

One of the stars of the show is the natural beauty, open skies and expansive plains of this part of the American West. That grandeur is depicted strikingly in the words of play characters — townspeople, mothers, paramedics, cabbies — as well as the crew of dramatists who traveled to Laramie to record the interviews for what ultimately became the play script.

That picture of wide open Western landscapes and mostly open hearts is portrayed only in words. The Laramie Project stage set is a stark backdrop of thrusting fence posts that spear the senses. The audience gradually realizes that the long interwoven daggers represent the lonely prairie fence where gay student Matthew Shepard was tied up by his two local kidnappers, bludgeoned with a pistol butt and left to die for 18 hours.

A horrendous image. That’s true. But evil often occurs in the midst of great beauty. That’s the vital message, brilliantly conveyed by the 11-member student cast. Evil takes root, is “owned,” says a play character, in the hearts of good people. It grows in the conscience of all well-intentioned citizens who look away from wrong-doing, even for a moment, as expressed by a wise Laramie barkeep in the show.

Beauty transforms the sickening facts of the case in a transfixing scene between a worried mother and her paramedic daughter. She selflessly struggled to save Shepard’s life after responding to the crime scene. The beautiful spirit of equality advocates soar as they spread their hand-made wings to shield the town from the spewed hatred of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church terrorists.

Finally, the simple beauty of a father’s love for his son fills the theatre and demands tears of empathy when he grants his son’s killer mercy. This moving monologue is the climax of this unforgettable production and one of the most compelling moments I’ve ever witnessed in many years of theatre-going. In contrast to what is reported about Oct. 1, in the crowd I was part of, you could have heard a pin drop. After the final line of the show, the emotionally exhausted audience rose in unison for a standing ovation.

Forgiveness, empathy, understanding. They’re beautiful words and themes at the heart of this incredibly moving evening of theatre. They’re words that apply to this performance and to the uproar surrounding the Oct. 1 incident that has gone viral in the instantaneous world of the Internet.

I would advise anyone who is struggling to reconcile their thoughts and emotions about the incident to take some time and attend one of the remaining performances of Ole Miss Theatre’s Laramie Project. It runs through the evening of Oct. 6 with five total shows remaining at Meek Hall Auditorium.

Seeing for yourself is a beautiful thing.

Andy Knef, Managing Editor, HottyToddy.com

You can email Andy at andy.knef@hottytoddy.com

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