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Emma Banchoff, a student at Washington-Lee High School, reviews “The Laramie Project” performed by Robert E. Lee High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program .             

A group of actors, clad in simple jeans and white t-shirts, gathers in the center of the stage, joins hands, and takes a deep, collective breath. Inhale. Exhale. So begins Robert E. Lee High School’s adaptation of The Laramie Project, a story of crime, trial, and hope.

Written by Moisés Kaufman and people belonging to the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project chronicles the repercussions of the homophobic hate crime that resulted in the death of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. A true story, Shepard was a gay student at the university in Laramie, Wyoming. The play, rather than following a direct storyline, is presented as a series of monologues, short dialogues, and journal entries that attempt to reveal the implications of Shepard’s death and what it meant for the small town of Laramie.

The show was purely an ensemble effort. Each person shared the stage and embodied numerous characters--no easy feat. From journalists and police officers to Laramie residents, bartenders, and criminals, every character and the actor’s balanced interpretation shed light on another aspect of Shepard’s story. Every member of the ensemble was passionate about his or her role and was dedicated to the character.

There were, however, some standouts among the cast. Danielle Payne was moving in her performance of Dennis Shepard. In her speech to the boy responsible for Matt’s death, she exhibited pure sadness, resentment, and forgiveness in poignant fashion. Another notable was Vincent Zhao, who played a bartender who was one of the last to see Shepard before he was attacked. His performance was refreshingly straightforward and appropriately emotional.

Due to backstage lighting that remained on during the show, the offstage area where actors were walking was visible. The set was purposefully minimalistic, and the actors were quick in changing costume. However, they sometimes did this onstage, which detracted from the centrality of the scene. Sound cues were appropriate and all actors projected well, although they stumbled on a few lines.

Robert E. Lee High School’s production of The Laramie Project was a riveting confrontation between wrong and right, hatred and compassion, and anger and forgiveness.