Malvern Theatre Society to perform The Laramie Project

Andrew Stetser

1254_Laramie-Project155658Cast and staff excited for controversial play related to Malvern’s diversity initiative

This November, the Malvern Theatre Society will be performing The Laramie Project, the story of the circumstances surrounding Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming.

Matthew Shepard, a homosexual college student at the University of Wyoming, was brutally murdered by two men on October 12, 1998, in what many classified as a hate crime. The play is a series of monologues collected by New York’s Tectonic Theatre Company, a professional theatre company that wanted to bring awareness to the reactions of the people of Wyoming.

“It’s a play that I’ve always wanted to do,” said Dr. James Fry, director of the Malvern Theatre Society. “It’s a show that Mrs. Velardi [MTS’s assistant director] and I have talked about doing for a couple of years now, and it seemed to make sense now with our new diversity strategic plan.”

“It seemed to be a good time to put this piece of theatre out there, because the heart and soul of the show is all about accepting people,” said Fry.

According to the Educational Theatre Association, high school performances of The Laramie Project have faced multiple challenges and cancellations, including three in one month in September 2005.

“I hope that protests and controversy wouldn’t happen,” said Mr. Christian Talbot, Malvern’s Head of School. “While the story is disturbing because of both the physical and psychological violence, it’s an incredible piece of drama, story, and depiction of the human condition.”

“It’s not obscene; it’s not pornographic; it doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. It’s a work of art,” said Talbot.

Fr. James Flynn, school president, thinks that Laramie will be a teachable opportunity for our students.

“He [Shepard] wasn’t killed because he was gay,” said Fr. Flynn. “He was killed because two people couldn’t tolerate that he was gay. That’s the perspective that I would want to get across to the student body.”

“People can agree or disagree with homosexual lifestyles. But we can’t kill someone because we disagree with them. We can’t beat someone up because we disagree with them,” said Fr. Flynn.

“The whole goal and underlying message of the play is about acceptance and awareness, and helping people become more aware of their own thoughts about certain things,” said Dr. Dorothy Sayers, school psychologist and Diversity Club moderator. “The play just continues spreading the message of being understanding of people who may not be exactly like ‘me’, but may be different from others.”

Support for the production at Malvern Prep spreads beyond South Warren Avenue. Fellow Augustinians think the show is for the best.

“It’s a good piece to do, because it really digs into the roots of bigotry and hatred,” said Father Peter Donohue, President of Villanova University. “The individual that was ‘different’ from the others was beaten up and killed, and was not doing anything wrong in terms of his interactions with these people. Laramie really looks at all if those issues, and it’s really an important message to get across at a Catholic, Augustinian school.”

Auditions for Laramie took place on Saturday, August 6. As with all Malvern Theatre Society productions, students from Villa Maria Academy, The Academy of Notre Dame, and Malvern Prep were invited to audition.

“The audition process, especially for a show like Laramie, was great,” says Ally Carbonar, NDA ‘17. “You’re in an environment where nobody’s going to laugh at you, and you’re free to make mistakes, and MTS is just a great place to be. I think that, because of this, Malvern is well capable of performing The Laramie Project.” Carbonar plays Amanda Gronich and Zubaida Ula.

“I’m excited to do this play,” says Nick Gatti ‘17. “I actually hadn’t heard of it before auditions, so I looked it up online, and I was skeptical at first. But now, I’m excited that there’s a lot of parts, and each character has its perspective.” Gatti plays Sergeant Hing, Aaron McKinney, and Greg Pierotti.

“I’m really excited for Laramie,” says Kelly Mulhern, VMA ‘17, “because I think it’s a lot different than Malvern has put on before. I think that it will give viewers a different view on the issue because it happened in real life.” Mulhern plays an angel and Romaine Patterson.

“I think Laramie’s a very powerful play,” stated Charles Malone ‘15. “I think the majority of the people on Malvern’s campus are very open to gay rights and homosexuality in general, so I don’t think that there will be that much controversy surrounding the play.” Malone plays Andrew Gomez and Reverend Fred Phillips.

The Laramie Project performs November 6, 7, 14, and 15 in the Duffy Arts theatre. After the run of Laramie, Mrs. Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard, will be coming to speak to the Malvern community on November 18.