"The Laramie Project" - By Moises Kaufman - City on a Hill Arts (Gardner, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" from City on a Hill Arts in Gardner, MA. through November 12, 2022Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“It is simply a unit of theatrical time, a unit which is then juxtaposed with other units to convey meaning" 
                   - Moises Kaufman, describing "moments"

City on a Hill Arts 



Written by Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project

Directed by Bethany Johnson

Produced by Debbie Moylan and City on a Hill Arts 

Cast Includes: Sam Burak, Jack Crory, Kevin Scott Hall, Corine Farnsworth, Lauren Hare, Lillian Maxwell, Matt Muller, Kathleen O'Connor, Ben Wilder, Cherry Lynn Zinger

Set Design: David Allen Prescott

Stage Manager: Abby Brogan


November 4, 5, 11 & 12, 2022 at 7:30pm 

City on a Hill Arts, First Congregational Church, 28 Green Street, Gardner, MA. 

Tickets Available at: www.cityonahillarts.org 

For more information contact director@cityonahillarts.org

Note: The following review may contains spoilers

City on a Hill Arts in Gardner presents "THE LARAMIE PROJECT- a poignant, fervid accounting of a terrible tragedy which, due to the effort of a theatre company, forced a community to examine its collective conscious.

Today, most people have heard of a “hate crime” and could easily recognize one. 

For most, it would be hard to fathom that, in 1998, young Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, the victim of a “hate crime.” 

Yet, it was not considered a hate crime by authorities at the time. 

Any crimes considered motivated by hatred tended to be thought of as more racially motivated - not sexually motivated and certainly not "sexual preference" motivated. 

Yet, young Shepard was murdered simply because he was gay.            

The methodical yet emotionally charged "LARAMIE PROJECT," as written by Moises Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project, feels more "orchestrated" than written. 

The show premiered in 2000 and examines the prevailing mindset of Wyoming residents during this era and the ramifications that resulted from Shepard's brutal murder. 

Shepard was at a bar where he met Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson (both men "recalled" by a "Tectonic Theater Project actor" as portrayed in a diverse performance by actor Sam Burak).

In fact, ALL of the performances in this ensemble piece were both impeccable and diverse as the cast portrays a multitude of individuals (as we attempt to avoid using the word "characters" as these folks were/are real). 

By all accounts, Shepard left with the duo that ultimately murdered him. 

College student Aaron Kreifels (recalled by a "Tectonic Theater Project actress" played by actress Lillian Maxwell) found Shepard's fatally wounded tied to a fence the next morning. 

Shepard would be transported to an emergency room where he was diagnosed as having severe brain damage and was put on life support where he lingered until ultimately passing away on October 12, 1998.

Kaufman's play utilizes contrasting excerpts from interviews conducted with residents who knew Shepard to provide us with a better sense of the openly homosexual Shepard and the tragedy that was his murder.

As such, it is difficult to classify this show as a "play" when it literally unfolds as multiple statements of fact and opinion made by actual people associated with actual events. 

There is nothing "play-ful" about it. It feels more like a live staged documentary. 

However, don't think the show pulls any punches because it uses assertions made by real people as dialogue. 

The emotional "gut punch" aptly delivered by both Kaufman's script and the ensemble performances is not lessened - not in the slightest.

Make no mistake: "THE LARAMIE PROJECTis a powerful, impassioned show that is well staged and well executed. 

Director Bethany Johnson makes some exquisite artistic choices and one which provides more theatricality to the piece is the employment of some marvelously produced multimedia clips.

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" from City on a Hill Arts in Gardner, MA. through November 12, 2022From Left to Right: Lauren Hare, Ben Wilder, Lillian Maxwell, Sam Burak, Cherry Lynn Zinger Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

The set design by David Allen Prescott perfectly allows for ease of movement by the actors who pick up propitiously placed props and costume pieces which allow them to shift into their multiple "personalities" efficiently and expeditiously.

Throughout the performances by the capable cast of City on a Hill Arts production, and under the direction of Johnson, "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" provides a concise examination of these polarizing excerpts. 

We hope to see if any one recollection best indicates that overall sense of tragedy, the overwhelming sense of loss, or even just that sense of senseless hatred as evidenced by the accused participants.

Yet, according to "THE LARAMIE PROJECT," the population of Laramie, Wyoming, back in 1998, was 27,204

As the recollections are enacted, it becomes apparent that the number of varying points of view regarding Shepard's murder could equal 27,204

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" from City on a Hill Arts in Gardner, MA. through November 12, 2022Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

There are few revelations here, unfortunately. 

Many of the statements made by those in and out of the LBGTQ+ community are reflective of polarizing attitudes still prevalent today. 

This was 1998 and was a time where movies being made whereby men would ogle, manipulate and objectify women without any negative consequences (unless you were Michael Douglas) and, if a gay character ever approached a heterosexual male, that hetero would take a huge step away from the homosexual. 

That was considered entertainment.

Allies of the LBGTQ+ community remark on the colossal waste of a young person's life. 

Comments made by the more "religious right" citizens show a less than enlightened stance, indicating perceptions of homosexuality as less a legitimate life choice and more a repugnant sexual aberration. 

Members of the LBGTQ+ community in the area discuss how they fear that the "genie is out of the bottle" and that they, too, could become victims of similar copycat hate crimes enacted upon them.

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" from City on a Hill Arts in Gardner, MA. through November 12, 2022Photo Credit Jennifer Knight)

Ultimately, "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" is NOT an indictment on the citizens of Laramie.

It is NOT an indictment on Wyoming or rural communities.

It is an indictment on bigotry, hatred, ignorance and violence. 

It is an indictment of the cowardice proven when some don't speak out against bigotry, hatred, ignorance and violence.

It is an indictment on any collective, large or small, which fosters or encourages bigotry, hatred, ignorance and violence.

It is an indictment of us.

Yet, the show also balanced, occasionally serving as an acquittal. 

An acquittal for the bravery shown by those who spoke out against what happened, who rallied against bigotry, hatred, ignorance and violence.

An acquittal for those who cared. 

Those who cared about Shepard, who cared about what happened to him and who, putting their own needs above their own, cared enough to put action to their words of support.

One of those who put Shepard's needs above her own and became "collateral damage" (as covered in the play's recounting of events) was first responder, policewoman Reggie Fluty (recalled by a "Tectonic Theater Project actress" played by actress Cherry Lynn Zinger). 

Fluty worked on and was exposed to the HIV positive Shepard, freeing him with her hands from the fence he was tied to, and was now potentially at risk for contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus herself.

According to Kaufman, there are no "scenes" structuring "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" only "moments," and, as staged, that could not be more accurate an assessment. 

Each "moment" is one felt more deeply than a "scene" in that it exists in truth. 

Each moment feels as though it has a soul, with some souls being more darker in spirit than others.

Dressed mostly in black, the ensemble moves in perfect tandem, like a series of a highly scrutinized placement of notes onto the musical staff for an exquisitely composed song with an overwhelming legato "tone" - one that is somber, moving...and truthful.

By the end of Matthew Shepard's tragic truth and of the repercussions that followed his murder, that somber and moving emotion you might feel after watching "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" is also one of sincere, painful truth. 

And Matthew's song...continues.

Approximately two hours with no intermission.

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 




In October 1998, a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming was kidnapped, severely beaten, and left tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming. 

His bloody, bruised, and battered body was not discovered until the next day, and he died several days later in an area hospital. 

His name was Matthew Shepard, and he was the victim of this assault because he was gay. 

Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half, in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard

They conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. 

Some people interviewed were directly connected to the case, while others were citizens of Laramie, and the breadth of the reactions to the crime is fascinating. 

Kaufman and Tectonic Theater members have constructed a deeply moving theatrical experience from these interviews and their own experiences in Laramie. 

"THE LARAMIE PROJECT" is a breathtaking collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable.


City on a Hill (COH) is a community-focused, multidisciplinary ministry for the development and production of artistic expressions that foster consideration of and critical engagement with our culture, the arts and matters of faith. COH was established to promote the development of God-given talent, to engage culture through creative means, and to foster deeply spiritual responses, all the while bringing honor to God through artistic perspectives.

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