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The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later had a unique grassroots flavor

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After incubating down in York County at South Pointe High School and Rock Hill Community Theatre for just over 11 months, Edge Theatre Company made its first modest foray north of the border early last week. Modest but memorable.

Edge's staged reading of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later at Story Slam had a unique grassroots flavor we've never seen before. The reading was preceded by a projected webcast live from Lincoln Center that brought the authors of the script, Moises Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project researchers; actress Glen Close; and Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy, down to the little theater at 1401 Central Avenue. About 150 sites in the US and 14 other countries then adjourned to read the script, which explores the aftermath of the October 12, 1987, hate crime that shocked the nation. To do that, Kaufman and Tectonic returned to Laramie, Wyoming, where Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, brutally beaten, repeatedly stabbed, and left to die.

Kaufman and his co-writers found evidence that, across Laramie, some attitudes had changed, especially those of law officers who had been involved in the case at close range. They also found abundant evidence that the town is in denial, more comfortable in believing that the murder of Matthew Shepard wasn't a hate crime after all, that it was the byproduct of a drug deal gone wrong.

My wife Sue didn't attend this sequel because the original Laramie Project, presented at Actor's Theatre in 2002, gave her nightmares. Neither of the Laramie scripts haunted me quite that way, but last week's Laramie 10 made my blood boil. I expect politicians and the chamber crowd to decide that it's better for the town's image if the fence where the atrocity took place is torn down. But when the mainstream media participate lustily in the whitewashing and brainwashing, I have to look at my profession and be frankly ashamed of some of the people in it.

Kaufman and his team painstakingly delved into the Laramie Boomerang's editorial slant on the Shepard crime -- and offered the editor-in-chief an opportunity to speak on the record and correct herself. Nothing doing. Unfortunately, it was the ABC News broadcast of a spurious 20/20 investigation that gave the local yokels license to self-deceive. There was no detectable fist-pumping or posturing, but it was clear that Kaufman and his writers -- a team of artists -- had behaved more conscientiously, professionally, and honorably than these dastardly journos.

The readings were followed by a post-show discussion that spanned the nation and the Twitterverse. But Edge Theatre had certainly cut deep before then. John Hartness portrayed the narrator, and Sheila Snow was a member of the ensemble. Actor/director Jimmy Chrismon, founder of Edge, directed this reading and is another familiar name in Charlotte. But the seven others in the ensemble are relatively unknown. Brandon DiMatteo and Maggie Monahan were moonlighting during Rock Hill Little Theatre's Moonlight and Magnolias, which finished its run this past Sunday, and my merciless files have detected Miriam Egbert and Andrew Barron on guerilla missions at the Winthrop University campus three years ago. Expect the whole cast to make sundry theater news in the near future.

Whether the mainstream media will cover it is another matter.

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