A slanted (or raked) set featuring western foliage is encircled by the entire ensemble, a few of them strumming guitars. Then the lights shift to dark blues as the brick wall behind them turns into a beautiful night sky. A picture of the real Matthew Shepard is projected onto the floor, and the audience is left to ponder what his life might have been, and how his death and the circumstances surrounding it could be an warning for the history being made today.
That’s Live Theatre
On the particular evening this audience saw the show, there happened to be minor light bulb malfunction that caused the theatre to go up in smoke. The audience was quickly and calmly evacuated, and the Chicago Fire Department was there within minutes to address the situation. No one was injured, and, besides a now melted dimmer, the show was left completely intact. After the forty minute emergency delay, and the clearing of the smoke, the show continued right where it had left off, with the actor Matthew Harris not missing a beat and getting the show back on track. It should also be mentioned that the house management team was very efficient in their handling of the situation, so those attending this production should know first hand that they are under good care at the Raven Theatre and with AstonRep.
Savagery in a Nowhere College Town
Moisés Kaufman and the Members of Tectonic Theater Project’s play The Laramie Project is centered around the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay young adult who was beaten to death and left for dead, tied to a fence. Instead of following a traditional play format however, Kaufman and company devised a production that strings together real accounts and interviews with the townspeople of Laramie, Wyoming. Think S-Town or Evil Genius. Throughout the play, we meet loveable but flawed characters like Doc O’Connor, a wisecracking limo driver who supports “the homosexuals” but lets an occasional slur slip out every once in a while, or Romaine Patterson, a lesbian in town that organized a counter protest at Matthew’s funeral that involved blocking out hate groups with elaborate angel wing costumes. As the play concludes, the townspeople and the company members struggle, cope, and grieve through Matthew’s death, and question how true hate could have snuck into their idyllic little town.
AstonRep Brings Heart
There is passion behind this particular production, and it’s very clear that everyone involved is treating the material and the history of Matthew Shepard with care and respect. From this performer’s viewpoint, the show would benefit from more rehearsal, in several aspects, and the production doesn’t bring any radically new perspectives or nuances to the 2000 play. That being said, the true text and real people still have a lasting effect, and the effects of hate crimes such as Matthew’s provide chilling context for today.
Thru July 8th
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3:30 pm
The Raven Theatre
6157 N. Clark St
Sara Pavlak McGuire