The town of Laramie, Wyoming gained international recognition on October 6th 1998, when young Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence followed by a brutal beating in which he was left for dead. Six days later Matthew died as the case became sensationalized throughout the world by the media as a senseless hate crime against gays. As a top story across the nation, support groups came to the aid of the Shepard family and protested such hateful acts towards another human being, especially for the mere reason of being different. Theatre on the Hill’s production of “The Laramie Project” is hard-hitting, meaningful and resonates deep within one’s conscience long after seeing the play.
Superbly acted out, “The Laramie Project” is the voice of local townspeople as they come to terms with the tragedy and piece together the details that led to the heinous act. With accounts from such as Shepard’s friends, Laramie police, a limo driver, the bartender and owner of the bar where Matthew was last seen alive, the story is beautifully pieced together. Wonderfully directed by David Belew, “The Laramie Project” is compelling as it is important.
With over 60 characters acted out by just nine actors, audience members are treated to true acting versatility. Florence Romano’s smooth transitions from the Laramie officer first on the scene to local shop owner, Trish Steger, is flawless while both David Dimas and Joe Mennella should be acknowledged for their flexibility in their multiple roles as well.
With a theme so close to the hearts of its cast members, Joe Mennella says, “We really relate to the people represented in the show, and that connection is coming through in our performances. As a cast, we spent some time talking about what happened to Matthew and the media surge in Laramie. We discovered that despite our personal and political differences, we can relate on some level with most of the characters on stage. It's been a very exciting process.”
As the story deepens, we are taken to a gripping courtroom drama where a grief stricken father’s saddened words to one of his son’s killers, Andrew McKinney, brings many audience members to tears. Dan Vujocic luminously plays the father, Dennis Shepard as one of his many roles. As a whole the entire cast is thoroughly entertaining, playing each and every role with the conviction needed to make a show like this work. After the final scene, the actors gathered to the front of the stage teary-eyed as it became obvious to all how close at heart this production is to each of them.
Theater President Craig J. Engel calls the script “powerful and richly layered” and he couldn’t be more correct. This gripping play is deeply haunting thanks to passionate performances, unforgettable projected images throughout and its potent subject matter.
The Laramie Project runs for three weeks, and closes November 22 at Bolingbrook’s Performing Arts Stage, located 375 W. Briarcliff, behind the Town Center Building.
Friday and Saturday shows start at 8:00 pm; Sunday matinees begin at 3:00 pm. Doors open 30 minutes prior to showtime. Tickets cost $12.00 for students and seniors, adult tickets are $15.00. For additional information, visit tothbolingbrook.com, the show’s Facebook page, or call the theater hotline at 630-759-2970.