Play denounces hate, sexual discrimination

‘The Laramie Project’ captures anti-gay crime

By Perla Juarez, Staff Photographer

More than 5,000 anti-gay hate crimes were reported last year, according to the FBI.

“The Laramie Project” illustrates one case of anti-gay hate crime, the media attention surrounding it and the people affected by the occurrence.

The documentary-style play analyzes the 1998 death of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who was brutally murdered because of his sexual orientation.

The stage crew used a projector to make the backgrounds and showed the audience pictures of Shepard and the people in his life during one scene.

It was a good idea for them to show pictures of Shepard and his family because the audience got to see what they looked like, humanizing Shepard rather than him being just another victim of anti-gay hate crime.

The play, performed by Contra Costa College’s drama department, is an ethnodrama, which is an art-based methodology of dramatizing personal events.

Performances of “The Laramie Project” will continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday in the Knox Center, starting at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for students and $15 for general admission.

The story draws on hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie, Wyoming, the personal journal entries of the members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, published articles and television reports.

The play did not involve a lot of props, costumes or an elaborate set. It focused more on the words voiced by actors and lighting to set the tone of each scene.

They used different colors like pink to symbolize a church, and blue to symbolize rain.       

On the stage was a fence to symbolize where Shepard was beaten to death by 21-year-olds Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

Afterward, the actors used a camera to film themselves interviewing each other and showed it on a projector, but the video was of poor quality.

The play involved a small cast of 11 students, so they all had to play multiple characters. At times it was confusing because they didn’t have costumes.

The other cast members had to announce the character they were playing before they spoke.

In Act 2, there was a scene where actors Armand Corshawn, Jelaine Maestas and Stacey Dearborn sang “Amazing Grace” for the funeral mass. Their harmony echoed poignantly over Shepard’s death in the play.

During the song, in contrast, the rest of the cast members were a part of an anti-gay protest.

While some of them thought marriage and relationships should be between a man and woman, the others were dressed as angels ignoring the negative slurs by using earplugs.

Actress Kaity McCoy, who played a nurse in the second act, gave an excellence performance.

In the scene, she told reporters about Shepard’s status while he was in the hospital.

When she told them he passed away, the delicate tone of her voice and teary-eyed expression captured the essence of a painful loss of an innocent, young man.

That was a powerful moment during the play for her and the audience.

One scene in Act 1 that stood out involved actors and actresses McCoy, Corshawn, Oz Herrera-Sobal and Sarah Piane.

The four played priests preaching their beliefs to the other cast members to convince the crowd to join one particular religion. It was a good scene because of the struggle to gain attention.

They stood on chairs to make sure the others and the audience knew the focus was on them.

Another powerful scene involved actors Derian Espinosa and Herrera-Sobal as Espinosa played the police officer interrogating Herrera-Sobal, who played one of the killers.

Espinosa’s authoritative tone captured the presence of an officer in charge. This was complemented by Herrera-Sobal’s carefree attitude.