PLATTSBURGH - In 1998, 21-year-old Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo. Now, the State University of New York at Plattsburgh will perform a play based on interviews conducted after his murder.
Nine SUNY Plattsburgh students will showcase a performance of "The Laramie Project," a play written by Mois s Kaufman, Wednesday, March 4, through Saturday, March 7.
According to the local production's director, Dr. Timothy Palkovic, Kaufman traveled to Laramie with members of the Tectonic Theater Project to perform interviews with community members. Then, they grouped the interviews together to create a script, which took them a year and a half.
"Laramie felt, the community felt, they were invaded by the media; they felt like they, as a community were put on trial [after Shepard's death]," said Palkovic. "It was devastating for them."
Shepard was kidnapped and murdered in October 1998 because he was gay.
"Repeatedly bashed in the head with the butt of a gun," Palkovic explained. "People are just appalled at the brutality of the murder."
Although The Laramie Project is about Laramie's reaction to Shepard's murder, Palkovic said the play does not preach to its audience.
"It collects points of view. I'd say it's not ideological, but it is in that the [Tectonic Theater Project] was looking to understand and to work for tolerance," he said.
After learning Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., plans to come to Plattsburgh March 6 to protest the play, Palkovic said he was shocked.
"Shocked because ... what we do is considered important by other people," he explained. "And also shocked because the play itself is not political, in its point of view. It seeks to understand and it creates a collage of all these people. You see the community through a facetted gem. You turn it a little bit; you see another view of what's going on."
Phelps, a controversial figure with negative views against homosexuality, is also depicted in the play.
"It's just shown, picketing and speaking as he does. It's his actual words," Palkovic explained. "I suppose that's one of the reasons that they come."
Although it is anticipated Phelps and other protesters plan to be in town the day the play opens, Palkovic said audience members have nothing to worry about.
"People coming to the show should not feel threatened ... Because of the way the Phelps group works, they do not block entrances or access to a theater or anything. They know not to do that," he said.
As for the play, Palkovic said it is not meant to invoke negative feelings, but instead teach compassion.
"You won't feel badly if you're not for the gay lifestyle," he explained. "You won't feel badly if you're for it. It's like any good play, it makes you think."
Tickets may be purchased in advance at the Angell College Center desk on campus.
For more information, including ticket prices, call 564-2283.