BY Bruce Shenitz
September 10 2009 8:00 AM ET
The play has resonated far beyond Laramie. When he was in a café in Laramie last September working on the Epilogue, an Englishman came over and asked if he was Andy Paris. It turned out that the Englishman was an actor named Adam Zane, and he and his just-wedded husband, Dick Longdin, were driving cross-country on their honeymoon. The Laramie Project had become a huge part of their lives four years earlier. “I’d kind of fallen out of love with acting,” says Zane, a veteran performer whose credits include appearances in the original Queer as Folk. “There were only so many gay vets, gay doctors, and gay comedy sidekicks I could play!” But when he read Laramie he decided it was a story he had to tell, and he directed a performance of it by a group of university students near Manchester, England, in 2004. Zane then founded Hope Theatre Company in Manchester, where he lives, and its first production was The Laramie Project. He eventually set up Exceeding Expectations, a program to end homophobia through education, and wrote a play called Outloud about young people and sexuality. The company will present the U.K. premiere of the Epilogue in Manchester on October 12, and Paris will direct.
Closer to the scene of the original events, Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City will be presenting the Epilogue in a staged reading three days before the national event as a sort of preview. Plan-B has a strong connection to the play: It was the first company licensed to do its own production, in 2001. Producing director Jerry Rapier explains that Salt Lake City is the nearest large city for many Wyoming residents, which gave the original production a different kind of immediacy. (Their original production featured one of the characters in the play, actor Jedadiah Schultz, playing himself. He’ll also be back to appear in the Epilogue.) “It really was community-based theater in the best sense of the word,” Rapier says. “Getting people to talk about things they wouldn’t otherwise -- maybe that's why it’s so widely produced. It articulates things that people can’t articulate on their own.”
One can only expect that the Epilogue’s answer to the question “What has changed in the past 10 years?” will be complex and multilayered and that the portrayal of Aaron McKinney will surprise and anger many. The town’s response to the revisionist version of Shepard’s murder -- that it was about drugs, not homophobia, a controversial theory -- will also be complex. “There are 27,000 people in Laramie. There are at least 27,000 Laramies,” Kaufman said in a New York Times interview.
Eleven years after the events it first portrayed, the play continues to address “all the big pillars of what we consider that a democracy is built on,” Kaufman says. “It’s about equal rights and it’s about justice and it’s about truth.” Epilogue, like the play it follows, is likely to have a life far beyond its multicity debut.