‘Laramie Project’ sequel to debut in Idaho Falls

A sequel to a landmark play, “The Laramie Project,” will make its Idaho Falls debut Sept. 12 as part of the city’s Pride Celebration.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” will be performed Sept. 12 at the Colonial Theatre on Sept. 12 and then move to the Phoenix Theatre on Sept. 13 and 14. Proceeds from the Colonial Theatre performance will benefit the Idaho Falls Pride organization.

“It is, when it all boils down, just beautiful theater,” Melanie Seneff said.

Seneff, 59, is the play’s director and a board member of the Actors’ Repertory Theatre of Idaho, which is staging the play.

The original Laramie Project was a Tectonic Theater Project docudrama about the 1998 torture and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo.

Shepard’s murder is known as one of the most notorious anti-gay hate crimes in American history. The original play was performed in community theaters and schools around the country, and later adapted into an HBO film.

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” picks up when members of Tectonic Theater Project revisit the city to conduct more interviews and explore the murder’s long-term effects.

Seneff both directed and played in an Idaho Falls production of the original Laramie Project play about 10 years ago. The first is more “emotionally brutal,” she said, but the sequel is equally important viewing.

Nine actors, ages 19 to 62, each play several different parts, even different genders. Seneff said the cast has been rehearsing all summer.

The play’s script incorporates discussions between Laramie community members grappling with the murder, Seneff said. The audience also is introduced to Aaron McKinney, one of two men convicted of murdering Shepard.

Seneff said it was not necessary to have watched “The Laramie Project” to appreciate the sequel.

After its Los Angeles premier last year, the Los Angeles Times called the sequel a “haunting feat,” one that “reminds anew of how theater provides context in ways no other form can match.”

“The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later,” Seneff said, also asks a key question: “What do we learn from our own history, going forward?”

The play raises issues that will resonate with Idaho Falls residents, she said. Laramie and Idaho Falls have similar demographics, as well as conservative political views and similar religious affiliations.

The forthcoming performance, Seneff said, can “help us examine our own town.”