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Mainstage Series addresses real-life tragedy with pair of works
Friday, February 12, 2016

Mainstage Series addresses real-life tragedy with pair of works

The cast for the Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance production of “The Lamarie Project” and “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” includes, top row from left, Jeff Kringer, James Lillin, Andrew Vitovitch, Gretchen Martino and Joan Cusick and, bottom row from left, Marisa Pizzuto, Pablo Vazquez, Micayla Greco and Ana McCasland.

The 1998 murder of a college student in Wyoming is the subject of the next two productions in the Walter Gloor Mainstage Series.

The Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance presents “The Laramie Project” and “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” from Feb. 25 to March 5 in Bartlett Theatre at Rockefeller Arts Center.

It is a special event intertwining two staged documentaries about the killing of Matthew Shepard. Shepard was college student at the University of Wyoming who was murdered in 1998 because of his sexual orientation in a hate crime case that drew national attention.

Written by Moisés Kaufman for the Tectonic Theater Project, “The Laramie Project” tells of the murder and events leading up to it. “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later” picks the story up a decade after the murder.

Directing the productions will be Theatre and Dance faculty member Paul Mockovak.

“The two plays are different, yet when combined make an excellent arc,” Mockovak said. “They were not written to be one, as with ‘Angels in America parts I & II,’ but written individually and separately. In each case we are simply trying to tell the truth.”

“The Laramie Project” will be presented on Feb. 25 and March 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 27 and March 5 at 2 p.m.

“The Laramie Project Ten Years Later” will be presented on Feb. 26 and 27, March 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m.

In addition, Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother, will discuss civil rights, equality and hate crimes on Wednesday, March 2, in King Concert Hall at 7 p.m. (see separate article).

“This is an absolutely unique type of play and my rehearsal style and method is different from my usual,” Mockovak said. “We are using the actual words spoken by the people interviewed by the members of Tectonic Theatre Company and the nine actors will be playing as many as eight to 10 different characters in each play. We are dealing with the truth of each character as we normally do, but the fact that it is based on an actual event with the actual text makes the work take on a greater resonance.”

The plays draw on hundreds of interviews conducted by the Tectonic Theater Project with inhabitants of the town, company members’ own journal entries and published news reports.

“The structure of the play has greater emphasis on the spoken word, as opposed to a farce where there is a great deal of physical activity, so the actors are doing an amazing job with the text and the physicality associated with each person portrayed,” Mockovak said.

While the stories are intertwined, each play stands as a work on its own.

“In the first, we are dealing with the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard and dealing with the emotions, fact finding and immediate aftermath,” Mockovak explained. “In the second, we are 10 years later and there is a layer that the distance of time gives the work and also a shift in the focus as well as in some cases a shifting of the memory of events. Character Romaine Patterson talks about the difference between Matt who was her friend and Matthew Shepard who is the icon of a hate crime.”

Between the two plays, more than 60 different characters are portrayed in a series of short scenes.

“I am using the same nine wonderful actors in each of the two plays,” Mockovak said. “For the most part I am keeping the key players in the story the same. In a few cases, one character will be played by different actors. Part of that is due to the actor tracking – who comes in when and where – but also for us to keep in mind that it is a theatrical event of nine actors as members of Tectonic Theatre Company and also the many people interviewed in and around Laramie.”

Tickets for the plays are available at the Campus Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 and online at fredonia.edu/tickets.

“It is my hope that the audience will be engaged, rapt, focused, moved and connected to the issues and take away hope and a greater understanding of the progress made regarding hate crimes,” Mockovak said. “And as character Catherine Connelly says, ‘That good can come out of hate.’ It is a wonderful opportunity to have both plays produced and for audience members to experience both.”

The events are sponsored by the SUNY Fredonia Federal Credit Union as part of the 2015-16 Lake Shore Savings Season at Rockefeller Arts Center.

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