A procession of silhouetted actors filed listlessly through the auditorium, as projectors and television screens displayed slide after slide of familiar images -- protesters, candlelight vigils, men in orange jumpsuits and the voices of newscasters repeating the name "Matthew Shepard."

So began Lake Braddock Secondary School's recent production of "The Laramie Project," written by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project.

The play depicted small-town Laramie, Wyo., in its struggle to deal with the 1998 murder of Shepard, a gay 21-year-old University of Wyoming student. Using interviews, journal entries, court transcripts and television broadcasts, the two-act play portrayed more than 70 real-life characters to show how such an event can unite and divide a city, state and nation that are already polarized.

Lake Braddock's production was anchored by the exceptional talent and versatility of the ensemble. Every member of the 38-person cast helped convey the riveting truth behind the intricate script, making each of the characters clear-cut, complex and captivating.

Adam Ressa provided the night's most memorable performance, portraying the grief-stricken father, Dennis Shepard, with marked dignity and resilience. As the conflicted college actor Jedediah Schultz, Andrew Froehlich had an upbeat energy that was fascinating to watch. Casey Stein and Elizabeth Holtan were endearing as the mother-daughter tandem of Marge Murray and Reggie Fluty, who explored their relationship in one of the show's lighthearted moments.

Jason Wolf showed exceptional character contrast, playing a hot-headed anti-gay minister and a soft-spoken Mormon teacher, while Josh Altman provided a dose of comedic punch as a mumbling wisecracker.

In a musical interlude, Bryan Case shone on vocals and electric guitar with a heartfelt rendition of U2's "One."

Photographs and video footage were presented by two widescreen projectors and eight television screens, which also displayed each interviewee's name. The lighting, by Kristen Ries, made excellent use of space and enhanced the show's vignette structure by employing spotlights from a variety of angles.

"Laramie" was, to say the least, a difficult show for a high school to stage, but Lake Braddock proved it could do it with style.

Jason Kobielus

Edison High School

The tragic death of gay student Matthew Shepard in 1998 sparked vigils, protests and a dramatic HBO documentary, "The Laramie Project," that was adapted as a stage play -- one that Lake Braddock Secondary School recently performed with grace and vigor.

The play was a collection of interviews and stories from the people of Laramie, Wyo., the town where Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. It contained interviews with the family and friends of Shepard and his killers, various clergy and other townsfolk.

As Jedediah Schultz, Andrew Froehlich did a wonderful job of using hand and face motions to make his points. Elizabeth Holtan's grasp of her policewoman character was perfect, especially when interacting with her mother. Robert Austin Wingfield's darkly humorous character added a welcome break from the intense drama.

Casey Stein and Mark Jennings delivered comedy and moments of somberness with ease and attitude. As Shepard's father, Adam Ressa delivered a speech that revealed how Shepard's family felt -- the most emotionally wrenching part of the show.

During a vigil scene, Bryan Case's guitar seemed to weep with the feeling of the sobbing townsfolk.

The stage was lined with televisions as well as two projection screens, displaying photos and the names of the people in the story, adding a visual element to the mostly bare stage. The sets that did appear, such as the fence where the murder occurred, were simple but powerful.

"The Laramie Project" combined a difficult plot, dozens of characters and a complex technical display. Lake Braddock did a superb job of putting these aspects together to perform a heartfelt, outstanding production.

Sam Klein

Churchill High School

Potomac

Andrew Froehlich, left, as college actor Jedediah Schultz, answers questions from Orlana Layendecker, who played an interviewer, above. At right, a photo of Matthew Shepard appears behind Robert Austin Wingfield, as Doc O'Connor.