I was dragged to a production of The Laramie Project a couple months ago at Shoreline Community College. I say “dragged” because while I love theater — I spent the middle twenty years of my life immersed in it — I am an exceptionally tough critic, and find bad theater to be extraordinarily painful. I especially hate maudlin, poorly-acted, amateur productions of artsy-fartsy experimental bullshit. But I had a nephew in the cast, and so there I was.
And it was great.
The acting was actually pretty damn good (though due to the family connection, I’d pretty much have to say that even if it wasn’t.) But the play itself was surprisingly gripping and moving, the surprise stemming not from the subject matter — the murder of Matthew Shephard and the community’s reaction in the aftermath — but from the unusual process in which it was written and the dramatic device it relies on. But quite simply, it’s a great play.
And so I was disappointed (but not shocked) to read that Davis High School in Yakima has canceled its production of The Laramie Project, apparently because some members of the community find it too controversial.
Let’s be clear. This play is not about homosexuality. It’s about prejudice, and it actually treats the Laramie community quite evenhandedly. It is also entirely appropriate for a high school audience.
No doubt it is a challenging play that may make some audience members feel a bit uncomfortable about their own prejudices. But if the Yakima community finds it controversial for high school students to stage a production of a play that laments the brutal murder of young gay man, then I’d say the community needs to be challenged.