At this very moment, prefrosh around the country are being coached on why they should go to Yale, told that the campus is a haven for open-mindedness, diversity and acceptance. If and when they get here, they will discover that Yale is known as the “gay Ivy.” “One in four, maybe more,” as the classic saying goes.
Directors John Hansen-Brevetti ’08 and Gabrielle Pinto ’07, with their ensemble cast of actors, carve open these glossy generalizations and examine the inner workings of prejudice in “Laramie Project: Revisited,” an adaptation of Moises Kaufman’s “The Laramie Project.”
The original is a documentary play about the nationwide uproar over the kidnapping, torture and death of an openly gay student named Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. Hansen-Brevetti and Pinto augment Kaufman’s already extensive compilation of statements from Laramie residents by conducting interviews of their own both in Laramie and here at Yale.
The play stays true to the original’s structural layout, consisting of monologues by Laramie residents and reenactments of the events during the national attention focused on this quiet Wyoming town. Fortunately, the directors try not to let their additions extend the length of the play past the threshold of boredom, instead tweaking the performance to clock in at the original’s time of two and a half hours.
The actors in the show, comprised of both newcomers and veterans, take on a variety of roles, each and every one of them played in an uncommon manner. According to actor Bix Bettwy ’08, “It is a challenge to play such a wide range of characters, from a 52-year-old gay man to a Unitarian preacher, especially when the dialogue is not really theatrical but in the style of interviews.” To enact these diverse personalities, the actors wear costume pieces such as jackets, ties, glasses, etc. over casual t-shirts and jeans.
The set of the play, designed by Becca Gridley ’09, appears to be both cleverly constructed and weighted with meaning. There is a large fence stretched out behind the audience, connoting that the audience is “tied to a fence” as Matthew Shepard was.
Another more intriguing and inventive scheme is the usage of camcorders and backdropping video screens to highlight the news bomb that went off over the issue of homosexual discrimination. The audience is turned into a gay-bashing crowd of protesters at Shepard’s funeral through a live recording and projection until a group of angels surround them while singing Amazing Grace.
The scenes set at Yale are designed to be the most salient, recounting Yalies’ discussions of an event that occurred almost a decade ago, a time when most of us were in junior high. Through this new investigation, says Hansen-Brevetti, they were “trying to find a message for our generation.”
From its reputation Yale would seem to be a paradigm of non-discrimination, but judging from the dialogues that the play points out — as well as other recent campus events — this may not be the case.
“The play’s about the culture and language behind homophobia. When you speak in a way that dehumanizes someone, it’s that much easier to descend into violence,” explains Hansen-Brevetti, referring to the word choice of “gay” and “fag” in colloquial conversations.
A criticism of a media frenzy that has now ironically received its fair share of media attention (plays, movies, tv specials), “The Laramie Project” has slowly felt less and less ground-breaking. By finding contemporary perspectives on the original event, Hansen-Brevetti and Pinto are attempting to discover a new relevance in the well-traveled work. Hansen-Brevetti predicts, “As the older generation dies out, we will be a more accepting society. It is necessary for us to talk about the subject and try to make things better.”