Tough Talk

Following up on 'The Laramie Project'

Shame is a hard thing to live with.

In The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, the lingering shame of an entire community comes into focus. Created by the same team that crafted the game-changing documentary-theater piece The Laramie Project—about the murder of gay student Matthew Shepard—this sequel takes place a full decade after the events of the original. In 1998, two local men kidnapped Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming, tied him to a fence and savagely beat him to death. That event sparked national attention and eventually led to federal hate crime legislation that now bears Shepard’s name.

In the town of Laramie, Wyo., where the crimes took place, many townsfolk are desperate to forget what happened, angry at the fresh attention brought with every anniversary of the murder. Others have been changed forever by those events, dedicating themselves in various ways to keeping Shepard’s story alive—whether some folks want it that way or not.

At Napa Valley College, the play has just opened a three-weekend run. Under the direction of Jennifer King, with a remarkably strong cast of experienced and student actors, the play unfolds in the round, staged in the intimate black box theater inside the college’s state-of-the-art performing arts center.

A project of the experimental Tectonic Theater Company of New York City, The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later is an extended “epilogue” to the original, once again created by company members Moisés Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber. The elegant, brilliantly constructed play is built entirely from interviews with the people of Laramie.

Ten Years Later revisits many of the characters from the first, who bring us up to speed on what they’ve been doing for 10 years, and then it introduces us to several new ones—most notably Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, and one of his two murderers, Aaron McKinney, who refused to be interviewed for the first play. This time, he agreed. The scene in which he is interviewed is easily one of the most gripping and intense moments I’ve seen onstage all year.

At times, Ten Years Later unfolds like a thriller, riveting and raw. But there is humor here, too, along with moments of jaw-dropping beauty and insight. If shame can eat into a town’s soul and tear it apart, perhaps it can also be the catalyst that leads to healing and even a new, more tolerant view of the world.

‘The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” runs Friday–Sunday through Oct. 7 at Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. 2277 Napa-Vallejo Hwy., Napa. Friday–Saturday at 8pm; 2pm matinees on Sundays. $15–$20. 707.256.7500.