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Making History: “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later”

What a thrill it was to be part of the sold-out performance of “The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.” On Monday, October 12, there were more than 150 such readings nationwide, and in eight other countries, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming. Moisés Kaufman and his Tectonic Theater Project revisited the town a decade after their first interviews, which led to the international phenomenon, “The Laramie Project.” The group touched base with those they’d met before, and even got to see the two killers, who are serving consecutive life sentences.

With acclaimed director Darko Tresnjak, the La Jolla Playhouse amassed a stellar 32-person cast, making it a genuine community event. The big excitement was for the high-end actors (Richard Dreyfuss, Mare Winningham, Robert Foxworth, Kandis Chappell, Bruce Vilanch, James Sutorius, T. Ryder Smith and many others, including young Stark Sands, who’s playing Clyde in the new musical, “Bonnie and Clyde,” opening at the Playhouse next month). Local actors Monique Gaffney, Sam Woodhouse, James Winker and Trina Kaplan were there. And the Chair of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, Colette Carson Royston. On the political side, the Mayor was part of the action, as was his daughter, Lisa Sanders; also City Council member Todd Gloria and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

It was heart-breaking, to hear that so many residents of Laramie are telling revisionist stories, asserting that Matthew was the victim of a robbery or drug deal gone bad, not a hate crime at all. It was inspiring to watch a post-performance feed from Lincoln Center, featuring Kaufman, his company, and activist Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother. On that very same day as all those performances, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a gay rights bill and proclaimed May 22 a day of recognition for slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk. You’d have to call that one triumphant moment of history!

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