Thursday, June 17, 2010

Booknote: The Laramie Project, and some thoughts

Below you will find the review I wrote over on my GoodReads page for The Laramie Project, which I finished reading last night. I am glad I managed to read it on time, so to speak. It took a bit to get it in. I borrowed a copy via our campus interlibrary loan service. I will note that I had to try twice. The first copy arrived with pages missing, and I had to return it. The second copy, from a different library, came with some water damage, but at least it was complete. The play is coming to town, and it is opening this evening. I plan on being there with my family because this is an important event. It is a play that this town needs to see and then talk about. Tyler needs a serious look at itself, and this play might be an instrument to begin that process. I will tell you one way I know that this is so. Earlier today in a meeting with the rest of our library staff, as we were talking about the play, and I mentioned I was going, at least one of my colleagues was extremely uncomfortable. I am sure if said colleague could have told me how I was going to burn in hell, said colleague would have said so.

The play has attracted attention and protests to the point where even I wrote to the theater when some of the civic theater's board members were trying to censor the production due to some minority but very vocal pressure. I even posted the letter I sent as an open letter here on this blog. I rarely if ever do things like write letters to editors or organization boards. It is part of what I feel I need to do as a librarian who wants to keep working; I self-censor some things. But this production is a crucial and important educational tool for this town. We need to have it here. We need to say that we are better than that. We need to make a stand and show others that we will not be afraid of ignorance and bigotry (overt or genteel, and sometimes it is the genteel type that can hurt the most and have the most pernicious effects). We need to say that we will not be silent and simply look the other way when something happens. Silence is not an option. We need to break down walls, and one way to do it is to start talking. Hopefully, this play will help towards that goal.

So here is my small review of the book. I will post my impressions of the performance sometime after tonight. I have to admit I feel a bit of pressure. When I was in graduate school for my first graduate degree, I had one of the best drama studies professors any student could have. Dr. Papa taught us to not only enjoy theater but also to see it for all its potential to speak to us, to explore a variety of issues, to bring us humanity. He taught us how to look at the space and how it works with the play's text and the actors. To look for the subtle things as well as the very obvious. To reflect on what we saw and what we can and should be learning. And he took us to see a lot of plays, some controversial, and for me, he sparked a passion about theater that still lives on even if I went on to become a librarian. So, Dr. Papa, wherever you may be now, I can only hope I can take your lessons with me as I watch this performance. To continue learning, reflecting, and sharing it with others is what you taught me, and it is what I hope to do this evening.

And my final reason for going? To support the local LGBT community and its allies. That is also why I am attending, and why I am bringing my family, including my daughter. Because I do not want it to be said that my child did not learn good values, or worse, that she only learned the "values" that led to Shepard getting killed. In fact, I don't want her to learn the "values" that facilitated the death of Matt in Wyoming. I want her to learn that there are other, better ways to live with others, to get along, to be charitable and compassionate, and overall a decent human being. Knowing my daughter, she will probably have questions and observations afterward. She always does when it comes to things like books and events she sees on the news. I am looking forward to that conversation as well.

I will see those of you able to attend tonight. Keep in mind, if you can't make it tonight, there are two more performances. You can find ticket information at the Tyler Civic Theater website here.

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The Laramie Project The Laramie Project by Mois├ęs Kaufman


My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have to say that I have not read a play in a long time. I think it has been since I was in graduate school for my English studies graduate work. This play is coming to our town, and I wanted to read it before I went to see the performance. I am glad I did. The play covers the event of Matthew Shepard's murder in Laramie, Wyoming in 1999. But the play is not about the murder itself. It is more about the townspeople and how they responded to the play. It is about how bigotry and ignorance live in a town even when the town prides itself on a "live and let live" attitude. That attitude often boils down to "if you do not tell me you are gay, I will not have to beat the crap out of you." Not exactly very tolerant, charitable, or "live and let live." This play has great moments where you see the evils that people are capable of, but it also has great moments where you see the compassion that people can be capable of.

The play is set up as a series of interviews by the theater company at the town of Laramie. They basically went there and talked to the people. Some people were more willing to talk than others. It is a minimalist play in the sense that it is made for an intimate theater space, the kind of small theater where the audience can be close to the actors. There are little props, and the actors play multiple roles because in the end, it is about suggesting a scene, not recreating it. In the end, it is the words and the response that matter. The space not so much, and this is so because, when it comes down to it, this is not just a play about LGBT issues. It is a play about every town in the United States. It is a play about every community that says, "it could never happen here," only to find out that, not only it can and does happen, but the evils of ignorance and bigotry emerge with ease. It is a play that will make some think about the values they teach their children, and it is a play that will make people think and look at themselves, then look at their communities. It is about us.


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