The Laramie Project Play by Kaufman & Belber
The inside awakening of several emotions to the audience is what underlines a great play. Moreover, if the writer of the play can evoke these emotions continuously, then the play passes for an extremely powerful piece for it then causes the audience to experience a “catharsis” moment. Catharsis in a dramatic setting is “the cleansing of the audience and/or characters in a play.” The Laramie Project, by Moises Kaufman, is a play that lives up to this definition of catharsis. It is the story of the small town of Laramie, following the tragic death of a young homosexual man. A group of journalists enters the town to investigate the events surrounding the murder.
Upon their entry into this town, the journalists discover a frightening display of a town filled with homophobic tendencies. Although some are fearful of having their town exposed, many do not see the error in their moral views of gays. The adherents of the Baptist church feel that the death of Mathew Sheppard; though sad, is a death aimed at ridding “God’s word” of a gay man. The congregation needs a cleansing ceremony; however, the preaching of the Baptist Minister who remains anonymous throughout the story further stains it.
Nevertheless, this anonymity does not lessen the catharsis that the audience experiences when journalists seek to know his views on the murder. In the wake of Mathew Shepard’s murder, the Baptist Minister should have helped the people of Laramie Wyoming recognize remorse for their homophobic views; on the contrary, he uses both the scripture and his pulpit to propagate fears; fears of the unknown, leaving the audience horrified and saddened for the small town.
Laramie Project, the play opens with a brief moment of explanation of the project. It moves to an introduction of people who highlight some insights on people’s opinions about homosexuality in this town. As the reader ponders how a town could get to such high intolerant levels to gays, the play unfolds into a section called the word. The word is a sermon given by the Baptist minister that allows the congregation to feel comfortable with the brutal murder of a man.
Coincidentally, the Baptist Minister gives this sermon after the death of Matthew Shepard. In attendance is Amanda Gronich, one of the reporters. The scene opens with the Baptist Minister standing proudly at his pulpit, stating, “My dear brothers and sisters I am here today to bring you the Word of Lord” (23). Several sermons start this way with emphasis on the keywords he word of Lord”. The Baptist Minister does not say they are the words of his own or that the sermon that follows is his opinion. He is specific in pointing out that the sermon is not something the congregation can take lightly because it is the word of their maker; therefore, these very words are not subject to interpretation by the congregation. The Baptist Minister is quick to point out the “The word is either sufficient or it is not” (23).
The minister uses his congregation’s faith in the scripture to foster his ideas and moral inclinations. The play is elusive about what the sermon says specifically about the murder. The writer oscillates between the left-wing views of the Mormon Church and the supportive ideas of the Catholic Church. To the audience, the revelation of the dangers of the Baptist Ministers is not exquisite. The insinuation here is the Baptist congregation might think that the murder of a man is justifiable by using the bible to support it. Throughout the play, the Baptist Minister continues to urge his congregation to hold onto their beliefs. “You will be ridiculed for the singularity of your faith, but you let the bible be your guide” (25).
Once again, the minister does not allow the congregation to have an opinion on the matter but rather hold true to their faith no matter what ridicule they might take. This stand leaves the audience grappling to understand why the Baptist Minister believes the congregation will be ridiculed which leads to the assumption that, he is preaching a less popular opinion of the murder. The Baptist Minister leaves the audience sad that he is not helping the community heal.
The next appearance of the Baptist minister circularizes the same emotions; however, moments of cathartic experiences for the audience are yet to come. The audience cringes in fear and sadness as the views of the Baptist Minister surfaces reveling how a small town could be so misguided in tolerance of homosexuals. Amanda Gronich meets the Baptist Minister again to discuss what she witnesses during the sermons. The Baptist Minister seems to be avoiding her; however, when Amanda finally catches up with him, he attempts to get out of the interview by saying he has nothing to say. Amanda breaks the news that she has been attending his sermons.
The audience is still unaware of his exact words, but they are persuasive enough to hint that all he needs Amanda to know about his sermon is, “I am not afraid to be controversial or to speak my mind, and that is not necessarily the views of my congregation per se”(68). At this point, the Baptist Minister seems to soften his stand on the murder in his sermon. He no longer says it is the word of the Lord. The minister is fearful that his culpability in the small town’s actions might be exposed. Nevertheless, this does not stop him from his unabated exposure of his ignorance. He continues to explain that he is in a precarious position because the accused and his girlfriends are members of the congregation. He then astonishes the audience when he says, “Now, those two people; the accused and the girlfriends have forfeited their lives” (68).
The choice of the word ‘forfeited’ is so harsh that it sounds like an error. The Baptist Minister believes that those who killed Matthew made a sacrifice for the sake of Lord’s Word. Matthew’s death is not a loss to the community. In his preaching, the Baptist Minister insinuates that the death of Matthew is justifiable for in it, the community is redeemed from the sin of homosexuality. As the audience sits fearful of what might be said next, the cathartic moment steps in when Baptist Minister explains his biblical ideas on the victim’s gruesome murder. He says, “…he had time to reflect on a moment when someone had spoken the Word of the Lord to him- and that before he slipped into a comma he had a chance to reflect on his lifestyle (69). The “word of the Lord and lifestyle” are carefully chosen in the same sentence intentionally.
The Baptist Minister has always preached that this lifestyle is against the word of lord. He leads a faction of people to the notion that to murder a gay man is justified. According to the Baptist Minister, the person who needs repentance for his/her sins is not the perpetrator, but the victim, Matthew Sheppard. As the audience reflects on these words, extreme feelings of sorrow, fear, and pity take over. There is sadness for the town, homosexuals, Matthew Shepard and his family. There are equal amounts of fear that this type of horrible crime will reoccur, if people like the Baptist Minister are not stopped. Although appalling, the quotes by the Baptist minister finally answers the question of how a small town could become so intolerant.
The Laramie Project stands as an amazing piece of work, for its vast amounts of cathartic moments. If a cathartic moment is the need to cleanse one’s soul, then the Baptist Minister bears a soul that needs this ‘catharsis.’ The mere reading of the minister’s quotes is enough to make the reader cringe and weep for the town of Laramie. The Baptist minister has a chance to assist in the healing process of the small town. Instead, he flanks his moral views around that of the bible. His words are the weapon that kills Matthew Shepard and as Matthew bleeds from a fence where he is tied to, remorse for his lifestyle is the last thing on his mind. Probably, if he is remorseful, it is for the town of Laramie that he chose to call home.