Kaneland tackles tough subject in ‘Laramie Project’

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 7:43 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided by Sally Jane Photography)
The cast of "The Laramie Project" is pictured. Front row: Douglas Orlyk (from left), Caitrin Mills. Middle row: Rebecca Hof, Pamela Gianakakos, Sabrina Massa, Laszlo Reed, Peter Lopatin, Trisha Mills. Far back: Justin Schaller, Ben Mitchinson, Patrick Murphy.

MAPLE PARK – Kaneland High School sophomore Andriy McFarlin said he felt exhausted at school Friday and wasn’t really looking forward to his task that night, as the stage manager for “The Laramie Project” at the school’s black box theater.

“The Laramie Project” deals with a heavy topic, focusing on reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was found beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Laramie, Wyo. The two men charged in the murder are serving life sentences.

But McFarlin, as part of a discussion forum after the performance, said an incident that happened hours earlier during the school day provided him all the motivation he needed. He said a student made anti-gay remarks at McFarlin, who is president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

McFarlin said it reminded him of the important work on the play.

“This is the best thing I’ve done in my school so far,” he said.

The Kaneland Arts Initiative billed it as the first performance at the more intimate black box theater. There were three dates for the show, with Friday’s performance delayed a week because of weather concerns. About 150 total watched the three shows.

The performances were demanding for the actors, with each character playing several roles, some of them rolling right into the next character seconds after delivering the lines as the previous character.

The cast wore all black, as if at a funeral, and the story is told as a series of interviews and scenes, moving from one right into the next. The cast included a blend of student and adult actors. The performances were presented by the KAI, in partnership with the Kindness Campaign, an organization that has formed in the Kaneland area to combat bullying with a positive message. Leigh Ann Reusche, one of the founders of the Kindness Campaign, was in attendance.

The play’s message is not so much about bullying as it as about hate and acceptance, as those profiled talked about their feelings toward Shepard and provided insight into how residents in Laramie viewed the situation. In the post-performance discussion, actors and audience members expressed frustration that more people didn’t watch the performances.

Diane McFarlin thought that was a good point, and she was heaviliy involved in the show. She is Kaneland High School’s assistant principal and was the show’s director. She is Andriy’s mother and is married to school board member Peter Lopatin, who played several characters in the play.

“We’re beginning the journey together,” Diane McFarlin said, adding that “we had 150 wonderful people see the production.” She said her colleagues were invited, and many didn’t attend. But she said she understood, and noted that, at times, Reusche and Renee Dee of the Kindness Campaign have had difficulty even spreading their message.

“They’re just talking kindness, and sometimes they get the door closed on them,” Diane McFarlin said. For instance, Reusche said some who attend a Kindness Campaign event might question why groups such as the Gay-Straight Alliance are on board.

Lopatin said it would be “really easy to think about who is not here ... but we are grateful for the people who are here.”

Douglas Orlyk, another onw of the adults in the performance, said he felt for Andriy McFarlin, saying it’s “really easy to say to Andriy that it will be better.” But he also had what he thought would be a more impactful answer – “how about you and I make it better.”

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