The storm that blew through here last night would have kept me safe and warm inside my house, except for one thing. Mom and I are season subscribers to the Santa Rosa JC Theatre Art Department's student productions, and I already had the tickets for last night's performance of "The Laramie Project."
It's an ambitious venture, because you have eleven actors representing the twenty-nine thousand residents of Laramie during the year or so after the killing of Matthew Shepard. All the people interviewed for the project are portrayed using their own words, and there are as many different viewpoints as there are personalities.
At times the same actor plays two people who take opposite positions on subjects that are controversial in Wyoming (and most places, obviously) — gay rights, the death penalty, hate crime legislation — and they might perform both roles in the same scene. It takes a lot of imagination to differentiate the characters, and the students young and old do it well. It's a powerful play simply because it lets you into the minds of people whom a less honest playwright and a less competent director might easily demonize.
Somehow it's possible to see through the stereotypes this way, and you begin to realize how superficial news accounts are. The evening news programs, in the name of digging deeply into an important story, tend to try to answer the most sensationalistic questions only, and turn the human beings involved into cartoonish caricatures of real people.
It's only when someone takes the time to try to understand that you get any real depth. That's what "The Laramie Project" attempts to do, and it succeeds in reminding us that people are far more complex than can ever be revealed in snapshots and sound bites. There's always more to the story, and a person can perform the most vile, evil act imaginable and still have redeeming qualities.
A vicious killer can make you laugh and cry, even while you hate him for what he did. Maybe you see this as a chilling indictment of society's tolerance, but I see it as an affirmation that humanity transcends the sins it commits, as individuals or as societies. That's the only way we can have hope for a future that isn't totally bleak.