Jacksonville audiences will soon have the chance to see a play that tells the story of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, who was beaten to death for being gay.
The Laramie Project is marking its 20th anniversary, and the play’s latest opening is this Friday at the 5-and-Dime theatre downtown.
The Laramie Project, written by Moises Kaufman, tells the story of Shepard, a University of Wyoming student, who was brutally murdered and his body tied to a fence in the freezing cold in Laramie, Wyoming.
Shepard died from severe injuries he sustained in a violent gay-related hate crime attack. His death set off a nationwide debate about hate crimes and homophobia that ultimately led to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009).
Lee Hamby and Brain Niece from 5 & Dime Theater Company talked on Monday’s First Coast Connect about the local premiere of the wrenching play.
“When we take on a show, we want to take you on an emotional roller coaster,” said Hamby.
According to Lee, Jacksonville does not do much during Pride Month.
“Even if it is not the happiest of stories, it is something we wanted to tell during pride month,” Lee added.
“One of the strengths of the show is it gives multiple perspectives,” said Niece who portrays about seven characters in the play. It is an ensemble piece he added, meaning there no lead actors or a narrator that just does one thing throughout the show.
Lee also points about the story isn’t completely sad, “This show even has some comedy in it and you have to find that comedy when you have something so tragic to tell. So it was an easy choice for us to want to tell this story.”
The aftermath of Shepard’s death resulted in the rise of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The group came into the national spotlight in 1998, when it was featured on CNN for picketing the funeral of Shepard. Since then, the church has attracted attention for many more actual and planned funeral pickets.
The Laramie Project starts Friday and runs on the weekends through June 30 at The 5 & Dime Theater Company, 112 East Adams Street.
For more information and tickets, please visit The 5 & Dime.org.