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Plays show little has changed since Matthew Shepherd’s murder

Brooklyn Daily

The true story of one of America’s most notorious hate crimes will come to Brooklyn in an epic five-hour production.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music will showcase the controversial play “The Laramie Project,” which tells the story of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepherd, and for the first time ever present it alongside its epilogue: “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.”

And a decade after the watershed production first told the story of a man killed in Laramie, Wyo. simply because he was gay, the epilogue proves time doesn’t always heal.

“[It’s] an amazing theatrical experience, to be able to follow a town for that length of time,” said co-director Leigh Fondakowski, who with Greg Pierotti wrote “The Laramie Project Cycle,” which runs from Feb. 12 to 24.

“You walk out of the first play thinking ‘people really got it, people really woke up.’ Then when you return for ‘Ten Years Later,’ you see this backlash and people really took a sharp turn in terms of distancing themselves.”

Three weeks after Shepard’s death, news trucks packed up and left and10 members of the Tectonic Theater Project rolled into town looking to have conversations with townsfolk that would spark production of the play, which has been produced around the world and in all fifty states.

And the resistance of some community members to talk foreshadowed the still controversial nature of the subject material.

“In places where queer people don’t have a presence or a voice, [the play is] still banned,” said Fondakowski. “High-school kids want to do it and their principals tell them they can’t. It becomes this fight they want to fight.”

But Fondakowski said the play does its best work in precisely these places.

“In communities [where gays] are underrepresented and with young people, [the play] gives them a vehicle to express something that’s important to them,” she said.

Recent gains for gay rights have actually incited vigilante homophobes, said Fondakowski, claiming that progress has come with a determined effort to fight against it — which keeps “The Laramie Project” current, nearly 15 years after the play’s premiere.

“The Laramie Project Cycle” at BAM Harvey Theater [651 Fulton Street between Ashland and Rockwell places in Fort Greene, (718) 636–4100, www.bam.org]. Feb. 12-24, $16–$20.

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