Hope College Theatre will present "The Laramie Project" on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 14-15, and Wednesday-Saturday, Feb. 19-22, at 8 p.m. in the DeWitt Center main theatre.

When 21-year-old openly gay college student Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered on Oct. 7, 1998, the nation refused to turn a blind eye. Within a matter of days, the media descended upon Shepard's normally quiet hometown of Laramie, Wyo., and changed it forever.

"The Laramie Project" is a pioneering play by the Tectonic Theatre Project and its artistic director, Moises Kaufman. After arriving in Laramie, they began what became a year and a half's worth of work documenting, researching and interviewing more than 200 people from the town. What resulted was one of theatre's first docudramas. "The Laramie Project" is a play that captures, through the citizens' voices, the months following Shepard's premature death.

Kaufman describes the play's origins following the murder in his introduction to the published script.

"In its immediate aftermath, the nation launched into a dialogue that brought to the surface how we think and talk about homosexuality, sexual politics, education, class, violence, privileges and rights, and the difference between tolerance and acceptance," Kaufman wrote. "The idea for 'The Laramie Project' originated in my desire to learn more about why Matthew Shepard was murdered; about what happened that night; about the town of Laramie. The idea of listening to the citizens talk really interested me. How is Laramie different from the rest of the country and how is it similar?"

The play was first performed at the Denver Center Theater in February of 2000. It has gone on to hundreds of productions--Off-Broadway, and at regional theatres, colleges and high schools throughout the country.

The Hope production will feature eight actors, all playing multiple roles. In melding the townspeople's perspectives with the original observations of the interviewing members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, they present a window into a town that has had to come to terms with itself as a community in the wake of a horrendous tragedy.

Post-performance discussions with the audience will be held after every performance. The discussions will be led by a three- or four-person panel of faculty, staff and students representing a broad spectrum of the Hope community.

"The Task Force on Issues of Sexuality encouraged our community to find educational and civil ways to discuss sensitive topics of sexuality, tolerance and difference," said director Daina Robins, who is an associate professor of theatre and chair of the department. "The theatre department hopes to contribute to that conversation with this production. The post-performance panel discussions every evening of the play's run have been organized in association with the Programming Committee on Issues of Sexuality. I think they can play an important role in fostering candid and respectful dialogue among differing viewpoints."

The members of the acting ensemble, who will portray both Laramie's townspeople and the outsiders interviewing them, are: senior Peter Beck of Dolton, Ill.; junior Michaun Burton of Columbus, Ohio; senior Rachel Carrozziere of Rochester, N.Y.; freshman Emily Casey of Wheaton, Ill.; junior Deanna DiFilippo of Flushing; junior Tim Heck of Libertyville, Ill.; senior Patrick Kearney of Clinton Township; and junior Erik Saxvik of Libertyville.

Other students involved in significant capacities include: senior Kim Daelhousen of Sinking Spring, Pa., stage manager; sophomore Katie Seifert of Plymouth, assistant stage manager; freshman Youngmee Sharon Kwon of Ann Arbor, assistant stage manager; freshman Jessica Bodtke of Grand Junction, assistant costume designer; and sophomore Meaghan Elliott of Brighton, dramaturg.

In addition to Robins, members of the theatre faculty involved include: Richard Smith, professor, scenic and properties designer; Michelle Bombe, associate professor, costume and make-up designer; and Perry Landes, associate professor, lighting and sound designer.

Tickets are sale in the theatre lobby box office in the DeWitt Center, and cost $7 for regular admission, and $4 for senior citizens and students. The ticket office is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., and may be called at (616) 395-7890.

The DeWitt Center is located on Columbia Avenue at 12th Street.