Go west (of downtown) to see ‘Laramie’

By John Lyle Belden

As I suspect it was for many other straight people, I can look back and see a rough point between “before” and “after.” A friend, coworker or family member turns out to be gay, or even officially comes out, and then others you know. You start to see things from the LGBTQ+ perspective. Then, suddenly, some jokes aren’t funny anymore, certain attitudes are absurd, and you feel embarrassed you used to indulge in any of that. Soon, you think of these individuals as friends, family, regular people — then no longer see them as “them.”

For America, one of those points was in the fall of 1998. Before then, to me. Laramie, Wyoming, was just a town where some of my cousins might still live, where I once visited historic Fort Laramie. To the general public, it was known as the home of the University of Wyoming, if they knew of it at all.

But the kidnapping, beating, torture and murder of Matthew Shepard in October 1998 changed that.

The story of a 20-year-old gay man essentially crucified and left to die rocked the world, and shook the town to its core. The media frenzy and public assumptions about the people there didn’t help. Playwright Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project of New York went to Laramie in the months that followed. Their work, “The Laramie Project,” is not so much a traditional play as a live documentary. Its nonfiction text is all from writings and recordings at the time, including court proceedings, and the feelings of Laramie residents, those who knew Shepard and the perpetrators, and Tectonic company members. The only agenda of this project was the truth, an honest look at the people involved, the Laramie citizens, and ultimately all of us.

“You must tell your story,” one of the clergy interviewed says.

Now, local company No Holds Bard presents the story at Indy Convergence, just west of downtown, with profits going to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. The cast of Abby Gilster, Clay Mabbitt, Denise Jaeckel, Nathan Thomas and Tristan Ross (who also directs) are talents who make a good play entertaining and a great play unforgettable — this one will stay with you for a while. These men and women portray various friends, relatives, witnesses, officials, reporters and regular people, as well as Tectonic members undertaking this delicate mission.

Ross’s range includes portraying Kaufman, the Judge, infamous minister Fred Phelps, and Shepard’s heartbroken father. Thomas not only plays sympathetic persons including the bartender who unknowingly saw the beginnings of the crime, the man who found Shepard on the fence, and a young theatre student finding himself coming out as an Ally; but also unflinching portrayals of the two men who committed the heinous acts.

I often refer to various works, from Shakespeare tragedies to goofy farces, as “must-see” — this time it is not hyperbole, or just me throwing my stage friends a bone. This is a show every American, teenage and older, should see. Ross, whose work I already love, and friends are even more wonderful in sharing this with Indianapolis now, as the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death was just days ago.

Going back to my starting point about changing attitudes, whether any member of cis-hetero America has transitioned to the “after” phase is up to us individually. It has become painfully plain that some are still stuck in the “before” — or even like it there. Thus, the importance of this work, even after two decades.

Tickets are only $15. Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday 2:30 p.m. Sunday at 2611 W. Michigan St. Pay onsite, or get tickets here.

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IndyFringe: ‘The Truth*’

This show is part of the 14th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 16-26, 2018 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By John Lyle Belden

To tell The Truth: Will the real benevolent dictator please stand up?

The clowns of A Muse Zoo are the kind of red-nose folks who speak, telling their Truth with jesters’ license. One puts on the furrowed brow of a professor, relating the True story of an imaginary land:

You may not know of the country of Kundnanibonbar, as it was just discovered. Four different neighboring tyrants looked over their border with it and each decided to take the land and its resources for his or her own purposes…

But this lecture is often interrupted, as the teacher leaves the room, allowing each ruler in turn to step in and tell us their Truth.

So, whose Truth will prevail: the flower girl, the cheese smuggler, the mole-person, or the boy prince?

(Aside: In an appropriately bizarre coincidence, during the weekend we are presented with this comic allegory of how history is written by the victors, there are reports that the President’s lawyer is declaring that every person has their own Truth, so what is The Truth anyway?)

In the Fringe show, “The Truth*,” aside from all the thinky content, we get very funny and entertaining performances, with all manner of silliness from whimsy to slapstick to melodrama. Note the bees are not real, but there is use of a strobe light. – So, that’s my Truth.

Therefore be careful with your soup, and listen to the turtle on your shoulder when he tells you to see A Muse Zoo at 9 p.m. tonight (Monday, Aug. 20) at the IndyFringe Indy Eleven Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair, just off Mass Ave. and College, in their last show before returning to Oregon.

And that’s The Truth.