Photo by Kevin Fowler

The brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Wayne Shepard in Laramie, Wyo., is one of the country’s most high-profile hate crimes, and is considered a watershed for the gay rights movement. In 2000, “The Laramie Project” was produced, a play that was composed entirely of interviews with a cross-section of the community. 

The play’s sequel, “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” performed this week by the Lansing Community College Performing Arts Department, catches up with the community a decade after the killing to see how the town has adapted and what, if any, changes have been made. This time the writers also secured interviews with both of Shepard’s killers, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, which elicit some of the show’s more chilling scenes. 

The show plays loose and fast with characterizations, with 10 actors juggling nearly 60 roles — for the most part successfully. Joe Quick, whose parts include one of the play’s interviewers and the governor of Wyoming, pulls this off best, giving each role a slightly varying voice and body carriage. Likewise, Jackie Payne, as Shepard’s mother Judy and the grandmother of the one of the killers (among others), skillfully slides from one character to the next and makes each personality stand out. As Catherine Connolly (Wyoming’s first gay Legislature member), Payne’s narration of the gay marriage ban vote is the highlight of the play. It really shows the swaying of public opinion toward something approaching universal acceptance. 

However, to say nothing of the utterly debunked urban legends that the killing was a “drug deal gone bad,” the local media whitewashing of the event and a highly questionable “20/20” story that muddied public opinion with flagrant misinformation, most of Laramie seems to be hesitant to pick up the gay rights mantle. There is hope — it’s just a shame that it took the murder of a promising young life to inspire that hope. 

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later”
LCC Performing Arts Department
Through March 23
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Dart Auditorium
500 N. Capitol Ave.