Whether seeking serious and thought-provoking, or a lighthearted comedy, local groups offer contrasts, as Henry Ford College takes on “The Laramie Project” and Dearborn High School offers “The Good Doctor.”
In a play that seems ripped from the headlines, “The Laramie Project” marks 20 years since the hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard, who was gay.
The show runs 8 p.m. Nov. 8 to 10, 15 to 17, and 2 p.m. Nov. 11 and 18 in Adray Auditorium in the MacKenzie Fine Arts Center at HFC, 5101 Evergreen, Dearborn.
The show, which was developed by Moises Kaufman and the members of the Tectonics Theater Project, was based on more than 200 interviews conducted with people in the town in the aftermath of Shepard’s brutal murder on Oct. 6, 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., and following the trial of the two men accused in his death.
Directed by Sarah Hawkins, the ensemble cast, each of whom play multiple roles, includes K.C. Brown, Mike Ross and Mike Suchyta of Dearborn; Kaylin Reed of Dearborn Heights; Sasha Joelle Johnson of Redford Township; Julie Barnes and Bethany Lowhorn of Wayne; and Jesse Mattox and Nate Wilhelm of Woodhaven.
“The Laramie Project” details people’s reactions to the murder of Shepard, 21, a gay college student in Laramie, Wyo., who was tied to a fence and brutally beaten in an isolated area outside of town. He died six days later from severe head trauma. His murderers received life sentences.
Shepard’s murder was a publicly decried as a hate crime, bringing crimes against the LGBTQ community into sharp focus. Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which President Barack Obama signed into law.
Hawkins said that what happened to Shepard is sadly still relevant today.
“A play like this lets us reflect on the community that lived through this tragic event in hopes of promoting conversation and understanding,” she said. “Strides have been made for LGBTQ rights, but there is still so far to go.”
Hawkins said she hopes the play will encourage post-show conversation among attendees.
“I think the students are really excited to do a show that stands for something,” she said. “They are doing excellent work, and I am excited for them to be able to show that work to their peers.”
Hawkins said she hopes the idea of tolerance is brought to the forefront.
“We live in a very divisive time, and I hope this show serves as a starting point for some difficult conversations about coexistence and tolerance,” she said. “What happened to Matthew is a tragedy, and hopefully through this story we can prevent future tragedies by promoting inclusiveness and awareness.”
Mattox said he first saw the show when he was in high school.
“It holds a special place in my heart,” he said. “Emotionally, the rehearsal process has been draining yet fulfilling. While it can be disheartening to hear the story of Matthew on a consistent basis, I hope the message of understanding can reach our audience.”
Mattox said the show tackles issues that are as present today as they were 20 years ago when Shepard was killed.
“This isn’t just a story about the LBGQT community,” he said. “This is the story about a small town, its people and the changes that transpire when a hate crime receives national attention.”
Mattox said he hopes audiences leave with better understanding and acceptance.
“They may not agree with everything they see on stage,” he said. “I hope they try to understand people for whom they are regardless of their own preconceived notions.”
Tickets are $15, with a $3 discount for HFC employees, seniors and students with valid identification. Call 313-845-9600 for more information. To order, go to hfc.edu/campus-life/theatre.
DHS PRESENTS SIMON COMEDY ‘THE GOOD DOCTOR’
Neil Simon’s “The Good Doctor,” based on the short stories of Anton Chekov, is narrated by a wordsmith suffering from writer’s block and his own bad habits, who shares his stories with the audience. The scenes look at life with both humor and pathos.
The double-cast show runs for two weeks, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8 to 10 and Nov. 15 to 17, at Dearborn High School, 19501 W. Outer Drive.
Noah Goddard and Katie Garber perform both weeks, with Andrew Blankenship, Will Kirk, Caleb Reese, Olivia Thibodeaux and Adriana Viscomi performing the first week, and Andrew Brown, Jonah Guevara, Olivia Kirk, Tristan Nunez, Tina Pakko and Sophia Palise performing the second week.
Director Greg Viscomi said he chose “The Good Doctor” because he felt it would be a welcome change from the fall farces the troupe has performed in recent years.
“Since the play is a series of scenes connected by a common theme, it gives each cast member the opportunity to each play different roles within one play,” he said. “The cast of ‘The Good Doctor,’ as written, is quite small. However, by double casting the production, I am able to offer more performance opportunities to my students.”
Garber said it is fun to develop four completely different characters.
“This show has many random scenes, so the actors must present a diverse range of characters,” she said. “Comedies are meant to lift spirits, and hopefully our show will do just that.”
Pakko said the show is unconventional in that it is a collection of scenes tied together by a common thread.
“Every character is an over-dramatization of common themes we find in our own lives,” she said. “Along with this, the humor is a fantastic combination of physical and verbal comedy, so I am hoping the audience finds it amusing.”
Blankenship said the black box staging allows the audience to be on stage with the actors.
“This will offer a special view of the show to the audience, allowing them to be up close and to see the acting more closely.”
Tickets are $11, with a $1 discount for college students with identification, and a $2 discount for students 18 and younger, and for seniors citizens.
One hundred non-reserved seats are available for each performance. The box office will open at 6:15 p.m. performance days, with the theater doors opening at 7 p.m.
Questions can be directed to Greg Viscomi at [email protected].