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Laramie Project Comes To Wheatley

The Wheatley Theater Company will present The Laramie Project Nov. 21-23 at 7:30 p.m., in The Wheatley School. Nineteen talented teens will portray nearly 70 characters in the emotionally charged, consciousness-raising production.

Based on a shocking event that reverberated around the world, The Laramie Project recounts how a gay University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard, was kidnapped, severely beaten and left to die tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming in October 1998. Five weeks later, Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of New York’s Tectonic Theater Project went to Laramie, and over the course of the next year, conducted more than 200 interviews with local residents. From these accounts, they wrote the play which chronicles Laramie in the year following the murder.

News reports are interspersed with verbatim personal testimony from not only friends, family, police officers and clergy, but also from the murderers and other Laramie residents in the production. The drama weaves in Shepard’s visit to a local bar, his kidnapping and beating, the discovery of him tied to a fence, the vigil at the hospital, his death and funeral, and the trial of his killers.

English teacher Colin McKenna will direct cast members Hallie ArbitalJacoby, Lauren Bennis, Aly Brier, Caitlin Calio, Emma Casali, Julia Cooper, Josh Dinetz, James Feimer, Ariel Kurtz, Amanda Liparoto, Gabby Love, Juliana Luber, Morgan Misk, Shannon Murphy, Liz Nolan, Neil Shahdadpuri, Jaclyn Stroud, Thomas Stroud and Chelsea Wolgel, with help from student stage manager Cloe Southard and prop manager Jen Dioguardi. Technology teachers Paul Chisholm and Thomas Storck are the advisors for the stage crew, who will build the sets and create the behind-the-scenes magic.

Though the play has been produced worldwide, it still generates controversy. Denounced as a hate crime, the murder brought attention to the lack of hate crime laws in various states, including Wyoming.

“From participating in The Laramie Project, I have gotten a better idea of the mindsets of people from a different part of America,” says Wheatley senior Chelsea Wolgel. She performs several roles,  including Marge Murray, mother of the police officer who responded to the 911 call and Lucy Thompson, grandmother of one of the murderers.

“It’s important to show people that we are still living in a country and world that discriminates against people who are ‘different.’ We should be embracing everyone’s differences instead of fighting and killing over them.

“From The Laramie Project, I have learned the importance of acceptance,” says Jaclyn Stroud, who plays multiple parts, including Romaine Patterson, a lesbian who’s a close friend of Matthew Shepard, and Rebecca Hilliker, head of the University of Wyoming theater department.

“I think it’s so important to share this show with the community to spread awareness about equality because it is still an issue today,” said Juliana Luber, Wheatley Theatre Company’s vice president. Luber portrays a Muslim woman named Zubaida Ula, who decided to wear a head scarf and is constantly questioned by townspeople because she looks different. “From The Laramie Project, I have learned that tolerance and acceptance are two things that people tend to confuse,” Luber added. The Laramie Project has been an amazing experience in that I truly feel like, in a sense, I knew Matthew Shepard—which makes this crime and his story much more personal.”

The Laramie Project has inspired grassroots efforts to combat homophobia and is often used to teach about prejudice and tolerance, with the hope of erasing hate in the world. Due to the mature themes and descriptions of violence, the play is not recommended for those under age 13.

To reserve seats, visit www.ewsdonline.org or call 516-333-1630, ext. 5230. Tickets cost $10, though senior citizen tickets are free, and can also be purchased at the door. The Wheatley School Auditorium is located at 11 Bacon Rd., Old Westbury.