The title may be clumsy but An Epilogue is a perceptive and absorbing examination of the human tendency to deny unpleasant reality balanced against our capacity to change for the better.
The play (by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Greg Pierotti, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber) is based on interviews they conducted with the residents of Laramie. Their intention was to assess the extent to which the community had changed in the decade since Matthew Shepard was murdered because of his sexuality. The town has prospered financially and some members of the community would rather move on from, or forget, the event that brought so much unwanted attention to the area.
The reluctance of the residents to be defined by that event is displayed in both positive and negative ways. The interviewers find that urban myths have developed to mitigate the crime from one of hate to that of robbery gone wrong. There is conflicting evidence in the University that Matthew attended which offers courses to raise awareness of the need for tolerance but is reluctant to award same sex couples the same financial rights as straight couples.
The plays examines the ways in which change can be measured and concludes that, although it is hard to achieve at institutional levels, individuals show great capacity to progress and to alter their attitudes.
The American producers wanted to make the play as an international event marking the 11th anniversary of Matthew’s death by staging it in theatres across the world. It is something of a coup that the Lowry was chosen especially as the different time zones means that we get to see the play before the USA.
This production is a personal triumph for director Adam Zane and his talented Hope Theatre. It does, however, present some tremendous challenges. As the script was not completed until days before the start of the show the cast have to deliver a dramatised reading rather than a performance.
Mike Lee’s projected images of Laramie and Dick Longdin’s imaginative use of limited props ensures a textured presentation bringing to life characters ranging from Mathew’s family and friends, passers-by, the police officers involved in the case, local politicians and the murderers. If you close your eyes and listen to the accent-perfect cast you would never know they were performing script in hand so fluid is their interpretation.
Whilst respecting the desire of the producers to commemorate the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, it would be a shame if this exceptional production was not given a rapid reprise.