Rocky Mountain Why?

Teen actors re-enact a senseless killing in Wyoming.

The 14 teen actors in the Beck Center's youth-theater program get a taste of grown-up horror as they portray more than 70 roles in tonight's opening of The Laramie Project. While the Moisés Kaufman play underscores crimes against gays, it also makes the cast of kids dissect the 1998 murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. "With this age group, I'm trying to find something gravely challenging for them to do," says Dawn Youngs, the Beck Center's associate director of theater education. "We are trying to push the envelope for the kids."Culled from more than 400 police and witness interviews, the show graphically tells the story of how a couple of rednecks posed as gay men in a Laramie bar and lured Shepard to a field off campus. After they robbed and pistol-whipped the young man, they tied him to a fence post and left him to die. Shepard was found the next day by a bicyclist. He died five days later in the hospital.Since its New York premiere in 2002, the play has been performed in Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and England. Its script exposes a college town's fear of all things gay and its hatred for the media circus in the days after Shepard's murder. The storyline, says Youngs, gives actors a well-balanced look at the hate-crimes debate. "I think we're a little too careful with our youth. We don't give them the tools to understand and change what is happening," says Youngs. "Theater is there to ask these questions of our society." The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, through Sunday, January 27, at the Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood. Tickets are $10 to $12. Call 216-521-2540 or visit
Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Jan. 18. Continues through Jan. 27, 2008