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West Orange High School’s “The Laramie Project” A Powerful Telling of the Matthew Shepard Story

WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange High School’s emotional rendering of “The Laramie Project” will be held on Nov. 12-13 in the auditorium, 51 Conforti Ave., beginning at 7:00 pm. It is worth the trip on several levels.

The play is based on Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project’s 18 months of journal entries and interviews with over 200 residents of Laramie, Wyoming as they grappled with the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s murder at the hands of Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson on Oct. 6, 1998. The three left the Fireside Bar together, and according to McKinney, he and Henderson lured Shepard out with the promise of sex but instead planned to rob him and perhaps look for drugs.

Shepard, 21 and admittedly gay, was beaten, pistol-whipped, hung on a fence, and left alone in the elements for 18 hours. He died six days later without ever gaining consciousness. Shepard’s murder became international front-page news as  LGBTQ supporters polarized and called for justice. The press descended upon Laramie as residents struggled to process it all.

McKinney and Henderson each received two consecutive life terms but were spared the death penalty thanks to the intervention of Dennis Shepard.

Matthew's father noted in his speech to the court: “I, too, believe in the death penalty. I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process… to show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy.” He and his wife Judy founded The Matthew Shepard Foundation to “inspire individuals, organizations, and communities to embrace the dignity and equality of all people.”

This, among many other stand-out moments, is a heart-wrenching point near the end of the show. "The Laramie Project" becomes a virtual journal, with participants' own words the actual dialogue. The murder of Matthew Shepard and ensuing events from his discovery in the field to the conclusion of the trial are recounted, often in emotional monologues by the characters.

The cast plays multiple roles, switching seamlessly between community and members of the Tectonic Theater Company. Their commitment and passion for the “The Laramie Project” is apparent throughout, and a testament to the West Orange community. Theatergoers will be proud to see the actors stand strong in their convictions to represent the play intelligently and emotionally. Slides, videos, and audio are also used for emphasis and background.

The play explores difficult themes, including fear, hatred, compassion, guilt, religion, and prejudice in a seemingly normal town, as the audience considers the many shades of gray that comprise the fabric of Laramie, Wyoming.

In 2009, President Obama passed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which criminalizes a crime committed because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin of any person or a crime was committed because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. 

“The Laramie Project” is a masked presentation, so be sure to listen carefully as the actors perform. Attendees must also be masked at all times. There are two intermissions in the program, which runs approximately two hours. The show is rated PG-13 for language and adult themes, but it is an excellent way to initiate conversation amongst families and friends. Tickets are $15 and are on sale online here. Some tickets may be available at the door.

Laramie Project


Laramie Project

Laramie Project

 Cast and Crew of "The Laramie Project"



Cynthia Cumming
Nov. 11, 2021