BY PAUL SCHINDLER | It was 19 autumns ago when the nation was shaken by news of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Laramie, Wyoming, college student who was held captive by two local men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who beat him savagely and hung his body on a ranch fence, leaving him to die. Found the morning after the attack, Shepard was rushed to a trauma center in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he died six days later.
In the years since, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, founded by his parents Judy and Dennis, has worked to combat hate and foster understanding and compassion in communities nationwide. In 2009, Congress enacted and President Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which recognized as well an African-American hate crime victim brutally murdered in Texas, also in 1998.
And, “The Laramie Project,” written by Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Company, has become one of the most produced stage works in the nation. Kaufman and his company, after roughly a year of interviews with residents of Laramie and the surrounding area, sought to address the climate there at the time of the murder and the effects that worldwide attention had on the community in the tragedy’s wake.
Now, the Wandering Theatre Company is presenting its production of “The Laramie Project” in what it calls “a bold new staging” — one that allows Matthew himself to “‘speak’ to the audience instead of being merely a third-party reference” discussed by the other “characters” in the play.
The production, which runs through November 19 at Access Theater on Lower Broadway, came to New York direct from an extended run at Washington’s Capital Fringe Festival, where it received the Best Physical Theater Award. It is directed by Natalie Villamonte Zito, and the ensemble cast includes Liam Armstrong, Andrew Benvenuti, Rebekah Carrow, Carol Patterson Copper, Adam Davidson, Craig Jameson, Sarah King, Jesse McCaig, Kate McGarrigle, and John Squires.
The Wandering Theatre Company chose “The Laramie Project” for a 2017 production in response to America’s troubled and divided political climate, which it notes “has marginalized people of many racial, gender, ethnic, and sexual orientations.” Given that reality, the production will include audience discussion with the cast at several performances.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT | Wandering Theater Company | Access Theater: The Gallery, 380 Broadway at White St., fourth fl. | Nov. 9, 16-17 & 19 at 7 p.m.; Nov. 10-11 & 17-18 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 11-12 & 18-19 at 2 p.m. | $35 at tix.smarttix.com