Tough drama, timely message: Cary-Grove High School to present 'The Laramie Project'

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted10/9/2018 12:23 PM
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  • Junior Allan Lopez of Cary portrays Aaron Kreifels, the young man who found Matthew Shepard, in Cary-Grove High School's production of "The Laramie Project," which runs Oct. 11-13.

    Junior Allan Lopez of Cary portrays Aaron Kreifels, the young man who found Matthew Shepard, in Cary-Grove High School's production of "The Laramie Project," which runs Oct. 11-13. Courtesy of Cary-Grove High School

  • From left, junior Megan Fisher and senior Emma Ambrosia, both of Cary, portray Reggie Fluty, the police office that responded to the 911 call; and Marge Murray, Reggie's mother, in the Cary-Grove High School production of "The Laramie Project."

    From left, junior Megan Fisher and senior Emma Ambrosia, both of Cary, portray Reggie Fluty, the police office that responded to the 911 call; and Marge Murray, Reggie's mother, in the Cary-Grove High School production of "The Laramie Project." Courtesy of Cary-Grove High School

Friday, Oct. 12, marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming, who was brutally murdered because of his sexual identity.

His story was documented in 2000, in "The Laramie Project," written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, who used hundreds of interviews to explore what was described as a hate crime.

The New York Times recently named it one of the 25 most influential plays of the last 25 years, as its actors portray some 60 characters in the town of Laramie in the days following the crime, and through the trial of the two young men who committed the murder.

This week, students at Cary-Grove High School, 2208 Three Oaks Road in Cary, will present the play, which is rated PG-13 for adult themes and language. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11, and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12-13. Tickets are $8 and activity passes will be accepted. Tickets are available at www.carygrovedrama.org or by calling (847) 639-3825, ext. 4149.

"It took bravery and hard work for the real people who put this play together to go to Wyoming and get interviews," says senior Nathan Ancheta of Cary, who portrays one of the perpetrators. "I am proud to say that this cast has the same courage and strength to accomplish something as meaningful."

Since 2000, the play has been staged across the country, and Laura Whalen, who directs the fall and spring plays at Cary-Grove, thought the time was right for her students -- and the school community -- to tackle the show's material.

"It felt to me like the right time to open up a conversation about hate, bias and the violence that results from them," Whalen says. "Already, this show has created opportunities to have conversations with my students about why we hate, recognizing our biases, and how use of hate speech and intolerant language can lead to violence."

Whalen and Technical Director Mike Schiestel encouraged students to reach out to the community to begin conversations and they were surprised by the response.

"Because we have such a large tech crew, we decided to turn some of them into a marketing department," Schiestel said. "They've started some great conversations with churches and community groups, focusing on how underlying bias in our lives divides communities and breeds hate."

Reportedly, a priest from a local Catholic church was so impressed after talking with students he pledged to devote his Sunday homily to the subject. Students also received support from the Fox River Grove Police Department, PFLAG and Equality Illinois, as well as Cary Grove's Gay Straight Alliance, Interact and SPARK clubs, and Cary Grove Buddies.

"Our goal is to raise awareness to biases," says sophomore Casey Olsen of the tech crew.

Junior Allan Lopez of Cary portrays the student who found Shephard, and he described re-creating the role and stepping into his shoes as haunting.

"I can't help but shed tears," Allan said. "The pain is real and right in front of me, not something across the world on my screen."

In all, students said they appreciated staging the play and getting the chance to examine whether society has advanced since the homophobic crime took place 20 years ago.

"The play can teach us where we have come from and where we have yet to go," said junior Delaney Hudson of Cary. "It explains the complexity of human thoughts in these issues and shows compassion in the face of hate. These lessons are some of the most important things we can learn at this time."

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