“The Laramie Project” is a critical play that addresses the brutal murder of openly gay
teenager Matthew Shepard in the small town of Laramie, Wyoming, an incident that
sparked national debate back in 1998.
Matthew Shepard was a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. On
a cold night in October, he was robbed, tied to a cattle fence and beaten savagely, then
left to die. He was found eighteen hours later by a biker. Though he was taken to a
hospital, he slipped into a coma and later died, never regaining consciousness. Two
young men, both locals, were later charged with the crime.
The play’s author, Moisés Kaufman, began research for the play one month after the
murder. Though written as a play, “The Laramie Project” reads like a documentary, and
is comprised of over 400 interviews with more than 100 residents and officials
concerning Matthew’s murder.
Additionally, Kaufman uses the journal entries of the participating Tectonic Theater
Project volunteers, like himself, to also flesh out his narrative and attempt to
reconstruct what happened on the fateful night of Matthew’s assault.
As such, the play necessarily investigates the town of Laramie and its purported “live
and let live” values. In doing so, it depicts and assesses the town’s culture and mindset
both leading up to and following the horrific murder.
Kaufman’s theatrical group, Tectonic Theater Project, volunteered to travel to Wyoming
from New York to gather in-person interviews from the residents of Laramie. Foremost
in Kaufman’s mind, as some critics have pointed out, is the question of whether the arts
—and theater, specifically—can have an impact on the political landscape in any
By gathering the thoughts, feelings, reactions, and regrets of his own theater group’s
reactions, as well as the Laramie residents, many of whom knew Matthew Shepard, and
then presenting this material in play form, Kaufman attempts to show the arts’ ability to
assess and critique in a meaningful and relevant fashion, like the media and other
By interviewing the townspeople, Kaufman is able to address specific issues, which in
turn act as themes to the overarching play. T
he most notable themes are homosexuality, economics, class, religion and the place of
nontraditional lifestyles in rural America. As symbolic of a larger culture, however, these
themes are meant to transcend the small town of Laramie and investigate the ethos of
America itself in regard to these issues/themes.
The play itself is structured into three acts. o The first act is comprised of interviews with townspeople, including longtime
residents. These interviews are meant to set a tone for the to