Four stars

The Theater Within;

The Church Within;

directed By Rod Isaac; March 7-16

In October 1998, a gay college student, Matthew Shepard, was beaten and left to die, tied to a fence post in Laramie, Wyo. The national media descended on the small town in time for prayer vigils as Shepard lay dying, and then for the separate trials of two residents accused of his murder. Staying on after the journalists, writer Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre conducted 200 interviews with Laramie locals about the victim, his young killers and what it means to be gay in cowboy country. The resulting Laramie Project gives equal time to residents who espouse a Western “live and let live” mentality and those who think that really means, “Don’t tell me you’re gay and I won’t beat the crap out of you.” The grieving father’s tearful courtroom speech is juxtaposed beautifully with the oddly timed observations of a bartender who remembers the accused simply because they paid for their beer in nickels, dimes and quarters. In Rod Isaac’s production, eight actors stand in for 64 characters, changing hats and jackets as they shift roles. As they recount the violence and occasionally trail off to more mundane concerns, their voices give off the scent of diners, bars and dorm rooms. Though tainted by violence, for better or for worse, they live on.

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