Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The American project

I saw a wonderful performance of The Laramie Project at Kenyon in January. It made good use of a very small space, and the space for the audience was also limited, so I wasn't able to convince my friends who are less ardently in support of gay rights to come and see it. But my kids came, and they were rapt. It's a talky play, so this was quite an achievement for the students who directed, acted, and put up the entire production.

Now, I've seen this play before, several times. Early on, after the events of October, 1998 (Matthew Shepard's murder), the performance had a searching quality. The focus was on how such a thing could happen. The words of the Roman Catholic Priest, Father Roger Schmit, were the most important part of the play: "What did we as a society do to teach you that?"

At Otterbein College in the winter of 2002, I saw a very good performance of the play which put the spotlight (literally) on personal responsibility for hate. The most memorable part of that performance was when the character of Zubaida, in her muslim headscarf, was suddenly revealed in a seat on one edge of the audience, concluding her speech with "We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this."

In the years since the play was first performed and discussed, Americans have learned more about the biological basis for homosexuality, passed one hate crime law (May 2007), pointed out to each other that churches who teach homophobia use biblical passages out of context (particularly Leviticus), and seen Fred Phelps go from protesting at the funerals of Americans who were homosexual to protesting at the funerals of American soldiers who died in Iraq.

The most memorable moment of the January performance at Kenyon was (as noted in the student newspaper) when the student playing Fred Phelps stands on a ladder trying to shout his messages of hate over an increasing number of voices singing "Amazing Grace." It seems to me that interpretive options for the performance of The Laramie Project have narrowed in the years since the play's first performance. What we're left with today is what all Americans have learned since 2001: "the magnitude with which some people hate" and the importance of taking some kind of stand against it (even if it's only taking your kids to see this play).

5 comments:

gotu said...

I was so impressed in watching The Laramie Project, I bought it on DVD. I was in Laramie around the same time that Matthew Shepard was killed. No place is immune.

Whenever people cite Leviticus, I always ask them if they follow all of the other commands of the book--usually not.

My big challenge these days is getting Maggie not to use the word "gay" in the perjorative way that kids do now.

Most homophobes wouldn't believe themselves to be haters.

lemming said...

Not long after MS was murdered, a Jehovah's Witness tried to save me. I was eating a long lunch in the cafeteria and glad of the company - I think she was glad to have someone who wasn't hostile.

Shepherd came up (naturally) and I comemented that I firnly believe that all Cristians could find common ground in what had happened. "EH??!" We did - we agreed that whatever sin Shepherd might or might not have committed, his family deserve to have been able to bury him in privacy and in respet, rather than a media and protest driven circus.

This gives mehope.

Jeanne said...

What "sin" did Matthew Shepard commit? He was targeted by two people who perceived him to be a member of a group they hated.

lemming said...

J - you know me, I'm with you 100% about MS.
The JW was sure that MS had comiitteed terrible sin or else God would not have let him die in that fashion. When pressed, one of teh sins was that MS had tried to pick up a man in a bar for pre-marital sexual relations.

Now assuming that the murderers told the truth about what happened that night (which I don't) I understand her viewpoint: not only gay, but pre-marital.

Still, the fact that she and I were able to agree on something religious, that a family deserved the right to mourn in sacred space without interference, does give me hope.

Jeanne said...

Oh! So this particular Jehovah's Witness was one of those people who would probably lose her faith in God if a tragedy happened in her family. (Whatever happened to that Roman Catholic saying "only the good die young"?)