Local residents are applauding a play about the impacts of a horrific crime 13 years ago, and what it makes people think about themselves.
Barb Jergeson of Chinook said The Tectonic Theater Project’s play “The Laramie Project” is immensely powerful, and the production of the play by Montana Actors’ Theatre is “mesmerizing.”
“It shows the reactions to a hate crime in a community where they didn’t realize they harbored hate,” Jergeson said.
Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyo., was tied to a split-rail fence, beaten and left to die Oct. 7, 1998, outside of Laramie. He was found a few hours later, but died in a hospital Oct. 12, 1998.
Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were convicted of the murder and are serving life sentences in prison.
Members of The Tectonic Theater Project interviewed people from Laramie in the following year, and wrote the play based on the interviews.
Darcy and Mike Zook recommended people see the play, to look inside about what they think themselves.
There may be a misconception that the play is about gays or being gay — what it is about is what Westerners accept or don’t accept, what people think about issues and dealing with issues, they added.
Joe and Brenda Skornogoski said the production was well-done and dealt with important issues.
“It’s always good to just openly discuss things,” Joe Skornogoski said.
Both also said the play reinforces their belief that all people should be respected.
“The biggest reaction I would have is that I think our society today criminalizes gay people,” Brenda Skornogoski said.
Joe Skornogoski said he believes that all groups, including gays and lesbians, should have equal rights, and the play shows the importance of that.
The audience members also applauded the performances of the actors — the cast consists of seven actors, each playing about a dozen roles.
Jergeson said the characterization was very good. Each role was clearly distinguished.
MAT veterans mainly comprise the cast with Kaitlyn McKnight, Andi Daniel, Julie Schweigert, Kristi Doll, Dennis Teigeler, Chad Zuelke and Jay Pyette acting the nearly 70 parts.
Pyette said that, in the first two weeks of production, the impact on the audience seems to be strong.
“It's amazing the people we see affected by it — people we don't really expect to be, in some ways,” he said. “It's a powerful story, and even more so since all of the words that are said by these characters are the actual words of real people. The characters are really more than characters; they all exist.
“One thing we've heard over and over is that Laramie isn't that different than here, and that surprised some people,” he said. “They see the characters in the play, and they are reminded of someone in town.”
Brenda Skornogoski made a similar comment.
“I think Laramie is probably very comparable to Havre, Montana,” she said.
“The transitions that the actors made from one character to another … was quite remarkable,” she added.
The play is done in front of black backgrounds, with all of the actors in black.
Jergeson said that makes the performances of the actors even more impressive — it all relies on their retelling the interviews, all relies on the words alone.
The production of the play continues tonight and Saturday, with the doors and backstage lounge at the Little Theatre in Cowan Hall on the Montana State University-Northern Campus opening at 7:30 p.m. and the curtain rising at 8 p.m.
Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, with free admission for Northern students with a valid student identification card.