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Robert E. Lee High School The Laramie Project

By • Nov 23rd, 2011 • Category: Cappies

“Said defendants left the victim begging for his life.” The judge filled the courtroom with these haunting words during the case of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming. And those words would fill the town, destroying its reputation, and leaving the citizens deeply saddened. The incident shocked the whole nation and was labeled as a belligerent hate crime. However, in Robert E. Lee High School’s production of The Laramie Project, the true story unfolds, apart from just the headlines.

The Laramie Project was written by Moisés Kaufman and the members of the Tectonic Theater Project and consists of a series of interviews. Each scene is an excerpt from one of the 200 interviews that the Tectonic Theater Project conducted after the murder hit nationwide news. Showing both sides of the issue creates a depth to the play and allows for empathy to grow.

Because the play has over 60 characters, all of the actors truly had a tough job of switching characters and developing each one; however, they admirably succeeded, creating a great ensemble piece. They clearly each worked together to form a sense of camaraderie among the cast, exemplified by the group breath at the beginning and ending of the play. This teamwork helped move their play forward, without anyone trying to outdo the other.

Although the parts were evenly distributed among the cast, and they created distinctions between their characters, some characters shone more than others. For instance, Dennis Shepard, played by Danielle Payne, was both moving and believable. Although Danielle was playing a man, she never once resorted to a faulty voice to make the distinction. Instead, her posture and movements did the work for her, making her monologue memorable and impressive. Payne also showed her range as an actress as she portrayed Romaine Patterson. As Romaine, she walked on stage in a black leather jacket, holding the ends, giving the impression of a girl trying to hide her emotions about what happened to Matt. However, once she began to blossom as an activist for gay rights, she became more open and sure of herself.

Another standout was Emily Kelly. The differentiation between her roles were by far the greatest, going from Doc O’Connor, an antsy limousine driver who sometimes drove Matt, to Zubaida Ula, a Muslim Student at the University of Wyoming, and quite a few more. Her use of an accent for Doc was not over the top and added to her humorous lines that otherwise could have been depleted without it. Each of her roles was subtle but strong, and continued to be impactful as the play progressed.

The set, done by Sean DeWitte and Robbie Labadie, was minimalistic, a smart move as not to detract from the actors’ performances on stage. The stage had a few black boxes and benches that the actors easily moved around as well as a fence in the corner, a constant reminder of the place Matthew Shepard was left to die. Although the flats that alternated in the background were unneeded and a little distracting, the set served its purpose as a canvas for the actors to take full control of. The sound also was very simplistic and yet effective, such as the use of a tape recorder sound when the defendant was being interviewed.

In Robert E. Lee’s production of The Laramie Project, the overall message of a town coming together after a tragedy was emphasized by the actors coming together to make this play and serve it justice. And the actors achieved what they set out to do, tell the real story of Matthew Shepard.

by Shannon Kitchen of Manassas Park High School

Photo Gallery

Vincent Zhao, Bethany Engel, Erin Williams Keller Collins
Vincent Zhao, Bethany Engel, Erin Williams
Keller Collins
Vincent Zhao, Robbie Labadie Robbie Labadie, Erin Williams, Danielle Payne
Vincent Zhao, Robbie Labadie
Robbie Labadie, Erin Williams, Danielle Payne
Danielle Payne
Danielle Payne

Photos by Andrea Berting

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