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Curtain Rises: “Laramie Project” in Civic debut

“The Laramie Project,” a play that examines a community’s response to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, opens Civic Theatre of Allentown’s 2023-2024 season, Sept. 14 - 24, Civic’s Theatre 514.

The moving and powerful play provides a deeply complex portrait of the response of the residents of Laramie, Wyo., to the 1998 murder of Shepard, a 25-year-old gay man.

“It’s hard to believe that the tragedy of Matthew Shepard’s brutal and horrific murder at the hands of homophobes was 25 years ago,” says William Sanders, Civic Theatre of Allentown Managing Artistic Director, who directs the play along with Rae Labadie.

“Could a tragedy like this happen 25 years later?” Sanders asks. “We all know that it could, it can, and it does.

“What we naïvely thought would be a turning point has become a touchstone.

“It’s important to do this play so that we can come together to perhaps reignite a flame of empathy and passion in hearts, so we can have the difficult conversations with those we know about seemingly innocuous legislation, veiled slogans and words that fuel and legitimize hate and oppression,” Sanders says.

The Tectonic Theater Project, led by its founder Moisés Kaufman, created “The Laramie Project” by conducting interviews with residents of Laramie in response to the hate crime that took the life of Shepard.

Hailed as one of the most encompassing pieces of contemporary theater, “The Laramie Project” shocks, challenges and moves all who see it as it reveals the lowest depths of hatred and greatest heights of compassion that lie within a seemingly average community.

To learn more about The Matthew Shepard Foundation: https://www.matthewshepard.org/

Civic Theatre’s ensemble cast includes Nicole Anderson, Tim Brown, Bobby Coll, Todd Croslis, Becky Engborg, Bowie Green, Pat Kelly, Josh Labadie-Gulotta, Marley Mathias, Jake Walbert and Rachel Van Dyke.

Information: The Matthew Shepard Foundation: https://www.matthewshepard.org/

“The Laramie Project,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14, 15, 20-23; 2 p.m. Sept. 17, 24, Civic Theater of Allentown, Theatre 514, 514 N. 19th St., Allentown. Tickets: 610-432-8943; https://civictheatre.com/

Play premieres in Allentown:

Crowded Kitchen Players is premiering an original comedy about a death-metal band, Sept. 22 - Oct. 1 at Between The Lines Studio Theatre, Allentown.

“The Spectre of Death” is about aging rockers who are given one last chance to get together and play before it’s too late, but for some, it may already be too late.

“The Spectre of Death” is the most recent play by playwright-composer Charlie Barnett that has been staged by Crowded Kitchen Players.

In 2017, CKP premiered a production of Barnett’s acclaimed “Twelveness,” and since has produced “Him and Jim,” staged “19: The Musical” and done a reading of “The Last Days of Cleopatra.”

“The Spectre of Death” marks the Crowded Kitchen Players’ directorial debut of Rody Gilkeson, a former president of Pennsylvania Playhouse.

The play follows Craig “Spec” Czury (Mike Daniels), leader of a 1990s’ death-metal band, The Crypt, that has long-ago faded from relevance.

Spec and his bandmates, who are all in their 60s, are living in suburban Las Vegas. They still perform, masking their physical and musical decline behind their Kiss-like make up and costumes. The Crypt’s masks are designed by Nora Oswald.

The band is finding it harder and harder to get gigs. After the death of Stevie Skulls, the band’s leader, Spec sinks into malaise and is resigned to living off the royalties of the band’s No. 10 hit from 1998, “We Are Gonna Rock You To Death,” when he gets a letter from a woman claiming to be Spec’s daughter that turns life upside down. All this collides with an unexpected offer of a gig that could launch the band back into prominence.

“The Spectre of Death,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22, 23, 29, 30; 2 p.m. Sept. 23, Oct. 1, Crowded Kitchen Players at Between The Lines Studio Theatre, 725 N. 15th St., Allentown. Tickets: 610-704-6974, www.ckplayers.com

Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO The cast of Civic Theatre of Allentown's “The Laramie Project,” Sept. 14 - 24, Civic Theatre 514, Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY PAMELA WALLACE The Crypt, the death-metal band in Crowded Kitchen Players' “The Spectre of Death,” Sept. 22 - Oct. 1, Between The Lines Studio Theatre, Allentown.