//Ad libs: A dramatic choice

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A dramatic choice

Larger-than-life musicals are usually the norm at the Portola Valley Theatre Conservatory, based at Valley Presbyterian Church. Like "Fiddler on the Roof," or the recent production of "Nunsense" that had me giggling like a loon.

This time, though, the conservatory is taking a brave leap, doing "The Laramie Project," which deals with the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming. According to testimony, Shepard was killed in large part because he was gay; he was beaten and left for dead on a buck fence.

Bravo to the group for choosing this play. That's true dramatic theater: not being afraid to throw yourself into the morass of human emotion and deed, however devastating it may be. And hoping you can learn and teach something.

The Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris, director of "Laramie" (and a lovely friend of mine), said the play is not just about Shepard; it's about the whole town of Laramie after the murder. Here, 20 actors play more than 60 parts (the script is based on real interviews), portraying a variety of residents in all their divergent views. In one scene an actor might portray a gay man, in the next, a redneck.

"The play doesn't try to sway people one way or another. Its point is that everyone deserves to be treated with tolerance," Cheryl told me. "There are so many voices -- you'll hear your view portrayed."

Because the play will be at a Presbyterian church, its opening is particularly timely, Cheryl said: the denomination -- including Valley Presbyterian -- is dealing nationally with the issue of whether gays should be ordained.

"We have numerous stances in our church, as in all churches," she said. "I thought it would be a good play to open up dialogue."

The actors, who include Palo Alto mother-son team Sally and Ryan Pfleiderer, are a mix of seasoned actors and first-timers. Proceeds benefit several organizations, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Shows at the conservatory often sell out; call 650-851-8282, extension 411, for details. I know I'll be there.

Pictured: Marge Murray (played by Ginger Holt) and Alison Mears (Anne Hubble) in a rehearsal for "The Laramie Project."