A Message of Love

As I prepare to write about an upcoming production of The Laramie Project, I find myself thinking about a great quote from an interview I did for a blogpost a couple weeks ago.  In response to a question about the concept of “preaching to the choir,” Jon Selover, of the Western Stage, replied that the choir doesn’t necessarily know all the words to the song.

That is so true: There are some plays that everyone would benefit from seeing, whatever their political or cultural persuasion.  Documentary plays like Dustin Lance Black’s 8 and Moisés Kaufman’s Laramie Project, which is being presented for one weekend only at the Indoor Forest Theatre, in Carmel, expose us to a range of opinions, experiences and emotions that are rooted in the rawness of real lives, and encourage us to think deeply about important issues, more deeply than we would if our only understanding came from snippets on television or the Internet.  Even if you’re already part of the choir, even if you strongly believe in the rights of same-sex couples to marry and the rights of gay men and women to enjoy dignity and respect and full equality in the eyes of both the law and their communities, you still may not know all the words of the song—in this case, a complex song, with many voices, about a community’s reaction to the brutal death of a young gay American in their midst.  (Photo of Matthew Shepard above)

This production of Laramie Project is presented under the auspices of the MPC Summer Director’s Project, a program that gives young, upcoming directors who have taken directing classes the chance to mount a full show, not just a scene.  Director Renee Infelise has been wanting to do Laramie Project for awhile.

“I have a personal connection to the play,” Infelise says.  “The play is over ten years old but is still relevant.  The issues in the play are representative of what’s being discussed in society right now—topics like hate crimes and gay rights—and as someone who is gay and is struggling for her own rights, I wanted to bring these issues to my own community.”

Infelise, who has taken theatre classes at MPC and directed The Vagina Monologues at CSUMB, says she envisions the play as a kind of dance.

“The actors are creating a lot of different characters,” she says.  “I see it as this one giant flow of movement, very fluid and movement-based, as if the audience were in the middle of a town square, and this powerful community story is flowing around them.”

The notion of community is what drives Infelise’s approach to theater.  “I want to get more than entertainment out into the community,” she says.  “What will get people to come out of their comfort zones?”  Her goal is to pursue graduate studies in theater arts, with an emphasis on bringing theater to the community as a means of positive change and social transformation.

Certainly much has changed since the Magic Circle Theatre, in Carmel Valley, mounted a stellar production of The Laramie Project ten years ago.  (You can read my story about that production here.)  In 2002, few dreamed that, in a handful of states at least, gay men and women would be saying their loving vows on American soil, with the blessing of an American president.

Yet despite the incredible progress of these ten years, gay children are still not safe from bullies, nor from the terrible feelings of shame that may infiltrate their minds and cause them to harm themselves.  And the gay civil rights that have thus far been established are still subject to the uncertainties of the ballot box, the politician’s vote, the preacher’s condemnation.  So much sorrow still exists, all because some people cannot accept the beautiful complexities of human desire.

“I really feel passionate about this play,” Infelise says.  “It has such a strong message about love.”

The Laramie Project, at the Indoor Forest Theatre, Mountain View Avenue and Santa Rita Street, Carmel, August 9-12, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Sunday at 2 pm.  Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation to support Rainbow Speakers and Friends.