One is a timeless play that has been staged with regularity for decades; the other is a more modern day gay-themed classic. Theatrical Outfit is mounting versions of “Our Town” and “The Laramie Project” in rep with each other, with “Our Town” opening this week and “The Laramie Project” to follow in two weeks.
The idea for the dual shows came about a year and a half ago when Theatrical Outfit’s artistic director Tom Key expressed interest in staging “Our Town” with another show and use the same cast of actors and designers. “He asked me what I thought about ‘Laramie,’” says Clifton Guterman, who serves as the company’s associate artistic director. “I’ve long loved ‘Laramie’ and saw the premiere in New York a few months after it opened, an Actor’s Express version and the movie. The moment Tom said that I agreed we should do it.”
“Our Town” is Thornton Wilder’s play about two families in Grover’s Corners as they love and marry and eventually die, while “The Laramie Project” is a look at the residents of Laramie, Wyoming in the aftermath of the kidnapping and murder of student Matthew Shepard. Guterman is directing “Laramie” and David Crowe is directing “Our Town.” Both men are gay.
Guterman realized, once the shows had been picked, how similar they were. “They are about small towns, community and the stages of life, growing up around people and watching them die, mourning them, forgiving and moving on, and getting through life through the good and the bad,” he says. “Both are three-act plays and have a lot of direct address, narration, and realism. It all clicked when we put them side by side.”
Crowe feels there is a reason that “Our Town” is still staged so frequently. “It’s thought of as this chestnut that everyone does and isn’t very challenging but what is so interesting – and why it’s done so much – is that it’s just about perfect structurally,” he says. “It’s always immediate and always for the audience who is watching it, whatever community is doing so. People think of ‘Laramie’ as present-day and ‘Our Town’ as a play that takes place in the past but it’s the other way around. ‘Laramie’ takes place in the ’90s and ‘Our Town’ takes place that day.”
“The Laramie Project” is a harsh reminder of what life can be like for LGBTQ individuals. “We have made so much progress with LGBTQ rights since Matthew Shepard’s death,” says Guterman. “We have taken some steps forward but there is still a great amount of hate in the world. We have a lot of people who use words and language in the extreme and use violence against others to diminish them.”
He was taken aback recently when he saw a Facebook post from Pete Buttigieg where he invited people to come to see him in South Bend and hear his thoughts on healthcare. “Some Internet troll jumped on and asked if Buttigieg had been tested for AIDS and if he could post his results,” Guterman recalls. “That was a small reminder that hate exists in so many layers in our daily lives. It could be as small as an Internet troll commenting on a gay candidate to someone beating a trans people in an alley. There have been many deaths since Matthew Shepard’s, some in Georgia, and there are four states that don’t have a state hate crime that would punish people. Georgia is one and Wyoming, Matthew’s home state still doesn’t have one either.”