This weekend, 12 years after the beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard, Nyack High School presents “The Laramie Project” — the play based on 200 interviews conducted by members of the Tectonic Theater Project. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Saturday’s show is expected to have a dramatic prelude, as members of the anti-gay Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church — whose pastor Fred Phelps is featured in “Laramie” — have announced plans to protest outside the school, on Christian Herald Road in Upper Nyack.
The script comprises transcribed interviews with real people: doctors, police officers, clergy, witnesses and friends.
On Oct. 7, 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten and left for dead, tied to a fence outside Laramie, Wyo. When he was found the next morning, his face was bloodied, except for the tracks of his tears.
Five days later, in a coma in the hospital, he died.
Rye High School presented “The Laramie Project” last month. There have been productions at Pelham, Harrison, Rye Country Day, Croton-Harmon, and at The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry.
Michael Forrest plays seven different characters in Nyack’s production — “all over the spectrum” — including Phelps.
Forrest says he watched video of Phelps to get his mannerisms down.
“He’s a lot more real than the other characters in a way, because he’s going to be here, or his people are going to be here,” the student actor says.
In researching the role, Forrest says he has seen counterprotests to Westboro’s picketing, including physical altercations and satirical signs lampooning the church members’ anti-gay positions. Those don’t work, he says.
The most-effective protest, Forrest says, is when groups put up fund-raising boxes across from Phelps’ protesters, so that those who disagree can take positive action.
“People who want to fight back but don’t know how can put their anger into a good cause,” Forrest says. “I was considering suggesting that to the Drama Club.”
Michael’s father, Elliott Forrest, says: “My bottom line, when I started to hear about the protest, was: ‘It’s a play. I don’t know why you’re protesting a play.’
“I think people should just ignore what little protest there is,” Elliott Forrest says. “The best way to show their support is come see the show. As a parent, I’m looking forward to seeing it.”
“The Laramie Project,” 8 p.m. Nov. 19 and 20. Nyack High School, Christian Herald Road, Upper Nyack. $10, $7 students at the door only. 845-353-7100.