many people know the name Matthew Shepard, the gay college student murdered in a small Wyoming town in 1998. But what many don't know is that his murder put the town of Laramie through some major changes.Those shifts are tracked in The Laramie Project, a moving play about the citizens of the Wyoming town and their reactions to an event that drew worldwide media attention.
Kimwun Perehinec joins the cast of eight who tackle a total of 60 roles.
"It's an amazing piece that talks about a significant event and its aftermath without being preachy or prescriptive," says Perehinec.
Developed by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project, the script evolved from six visits and over 200 interviews with members of the community. Despite its roots, The Laramie Project is more than a testimonial-filled docudrama.
"It becomes an emotional experience, with the characters processing the event and finding themselves changed by it," adds Perehinec, who admits that she still cries when she comes upon a moving character.
There are many, in fact. Among them is the straight police officer whose view of gays is altered because of his investigation; he loses some friends because of his increasing sympathy. Then there's the head of the university's drama department, who puts on the gay-themed Angels In America to ignite student dialogue about deep-seated homophobia, and several closeted gays and lesbians inspired with a sense of community.
Perehinec is part of Studio 180, a group made up largely of former University of Waterloo theatre students who've come together to do this and future productions. The Laramie Project will be a test, since each actor has to shift radically and quickly from one character to another. Perehinec plays, among others, the male student who finds the beaten Shepard, a social worker, a lesbian university administrator and 21-year-old Romaine Patterson, Shepard's dyke friend.
"Romaine's the most emotionally resonant of my characters, since Matt was her intimate acquaintance. The events in Laramie gave her a focus and an awareness of the power she possessed to deal with hatred."
Perehinec's proven her skill at playing intense characters, demonstrating the kind of huge range this production demands. She almost stole the show last fall in Eric Woolfe's comically over-the-top horror fest Sideshow Of The Damned, playing several characters, including a well-endowed imp and the mother of the future roach race.
In Sean Reycraft's Pop Song she was a high-schooler who didn't acknowledge her pregnancy, while Gil Garratt's Vicious Little Boyz In The Rain cast her as the only woman in a vitriolic, disaffected teen guy gang.
But she's still flying from last summer, when she premiered three Canadian plays at Stratford's new Studio Theatre. She was especially memorable in Timothy Findley's last play, Shadows, in which she was cast as a revenge-bent transsexual.
"I came out of the work a strong, better actor. I even learned about being a dangerously sexy woman onstage, which I didn't believe I could do." firstname.lastname@example.org
THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project, directed by Joel Greenberg, with Lesley Dowey, Deborah Drakeford, Jonathan Goad, Marvin Hinz, Alison Lawrence, Mark McGrinder, Kimwun Perehinec and Dylan Roberts. Presented by Studio 180 at Artword (75 Portland). Previews tonight (Thursday, February 13), opens Friday (February 14) and runs to March 2, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $15-$30, limited Sunday pwyc. 416-872-1212.