The Laramie Project On Stage At Visalia Community Players

Oct 3, 2012 | 2012 Articles, Theatre

by Nancy Holley

Special KRL coupon at the end of this article.

Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney had no idea that their actions, rooted in ignorant fear, would cause a community to unravel and send waves of shock and disbelief across a nation. The Laramie Project is a docu-drama created by the Tectonic Theater Project in search of answers. Why was Matthew Shepard savagely attacked? Was Laramie, WY a town filled with hate? What could have been done to prevent the actions of Henderson and McKinney?

Christina Thorin, the play’s director, notes that media judgments were made about the community of Laramie, WY in the aftermath of the attack, judgments that sent Laramie’s citizens reeling in attempts to understand how such an horrific event could have occurred in their midst. The Tectonic Theater Project was meant to identify the truth, to present through dialogue the various viewpoints held by the community.

Cast members of Laramie Project during dress rehearsals

The story is told through eight members of the Tectonic Theater Project who interviewed citizens of Laramie and researched court documents. Each of the eight portrays numerous individuals who were major and minor influences before, during, and after the incident. The beginning of the play depicts the thoughts and deeds of members of the Laramie community prior to Matthew’s attack. The story moves to the horrific deeds of Henderson and McKinney and culminates in their trials.

Matthew’s story is personal for the actors. Teresa Langdon, whose Tectonic character is Amanda Gronich, was 18 and in college when Matthew was killed. “His death is one of my early adulthood memories.” Tectonic member Andy Paris is portrayed by Bailey Beach, whose mother told him about the play. “I’m gay and it meant a lot to me. I thought it would open people’s eyes.”

Teresa Langdon

A couple of years younger than Matthew, Henry Gonzales believes that getting the message out is critical, from the love of family and the hate of other boys, to all those in between. “The message of this play needs to be said; even though we are working toward equality, problems still exist.” Henry is Tectonic member Greg Pierotti.

Erin Gillis and Henry Gonzalez

Thorin emphasizes the importance of authenticity as the actors play multiple characters, sometimes with opposite points of view. “It is important that they believe what the character believes in their portrayal.”

For the actors, transitioning between characters is challenging but rewarding. Beach transitions from Jediah Schultz, a gay theater major, to Russell Henderson, one of the perpetrators, and later to Aaron McKinney, who is blatantly homophobic. Beach finds it difficult to portray Henderson and McKinney but is working very hard to make them real.

Lindsay Surratt, Tectonic member Leigh Fondakowski, finds the most challenging transition between Romaine Patterson, Matthew’s lesbian best friend, and Aaron Kreifels, a very religious Catholic student who finds Matthew after the attack. Matthew’s death deeply affects both of them. Romaine thought she was on the path to a music career, but finds herself guided by Matthew into political activism. Aaron struggles to understand why God led him to find Matthew. What message is God sending?

Left to right-Lindsay Surratt, Henry Gonzalez and Aaron Johnson

A common theme among the actors and the director is the hope that audience members will come to the show with an open mind, willing to be informed by the words of the authors, based on interviews and court documents. As Langdon pointed out, “The show is not a single point of view. You might see something in the characters that will help you understand multiple perspectives. It doesn’t matter what side you are on. With an open mind you will learn.”

The Laramie Project
opens at the Ice House Theater at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, October 5, 2012 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 10/5, 10/6, 10/12, 10/13, 10/19, and 10/20 and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 10/7, 10/14, and 10/21.

For more information about the Visalia Community Players, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.

Print this page and take to the show to get discount:

Visalia Community Players Two-For-One Coupon
The Laramie Project
Written by Moises Kaufman
Admit 2 Adults for $14.00
Coupon good for any performance of the play.
One Coupon Per Family
Reservations Suggested – 559-734-3900

Watch for a new Local Live every Wednesday evening at 7!

Nancy Holley has been involved in the Visalia Community Players off and on since the 1970s, both as a director and actor. In 2010, she retired from 25 years as a software consultant and has since expanded her role at the Players. She is now President of the Board and responsible for Box Office/Hosting volunteers.


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