Encore Michigan

Mosaic Youth Theatre delivers powerful punch with ‘The Laramie Project’

Review February 23, 2019 David Kiley

DETROIT, Mich.–Blood covered Matthew Shepard’s body, except for his face where his tears had washed away the blood beneath his eyes.

That is a paraphrase of a line spoken by the police officer who discovered the body of the 21-year old twenty years and four months ago when she arrived on the scene in Laramie, Wyoming to find the young, slight-bodied man tied to a fence, left for some 18 hours after being pistol-whipped, beaten and set afire. Because he was gay.

The Laramie Project, performed this weekend by The Mosaic Youth Theatre, is a documentary play that grips your consciousness, pulls at your guts, and gives good people extraordinary hope that this company of teenagers would bring its audience such a powerful heart-wrenching story.

Why hope? Because there are 32 teens on stage, and five young techs supporting the effort who have to have open hearts and unprejudiced minds, and are ambassadors of loving people every time they perform this play. And that is hopeful.

The Laramie Project is a 2000 play by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. The play draws on hundred of interviews conducted in Laramie with townspeople, witnesses, members of the police department, as well as published news reports and journal entries of members of the theater company.

The story of Shepherd, his murder and trial are told documentary-style with MYT’s 32 actors rotating in and out of some 60 characters. MYT’s space is its black box theater. The actors are lined up on metal chairs on three sides of the square. Behind them are various jackets, hats, etc. on hooks so they can easily don quick costume changes.

Directed by Andrew Huff, the actors work with no set to speak of, but they do use their metal chairs to great effect as percussion instruments, at times banging them on the floor to a beat, and at other times as props, holding them over their heads in freeze-frame metaphorical acts of aggression.

This play has been performed around the country by various theaters. I don’t know if it has been done frequently by youth theaters. This powerful production made this reviewer’s eyes well up remembering the powerful act of violence and hate that took Matthew Shepard’s young life. But the thing that dried them up was thinking about how even though that kind of hatred is still among us, aimed at people of color and LGBTQ people amidst a climate of hatred fueled by right-wing political office holders and suspect church leaders backing them, these 37 young people are holding a torch of hope, tolerance and acceptance that burns much brighter than the fires of hate that still burn in our communities.

You have two more chances to see this production at Mosaic’s black box theater at The Miller School at 2251 Antietam, Detroit. Click here for show and ticket information.

Week of 5/25/2020

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