Some people were surprised to hear that a church was presenting "The Laramie Project." The 2000 play was written by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the 1998 murder of college student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyo.
"Why here and why now?," said the Rev. Doug Hahn, the rector at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. "It's part of the bigger picture — the 50th anniversary of our parish. The story (of Shepard's murder and aftermath) is beyond here and beyond now."
But why in a church instead of an established theater?
"I think it's better that a church is doing this, rather than the Springer Opera House," said Steve Valentini, a frequent actor on that stage. He is co-directing the play with another theater veteran, Debbie Anderson. "I think we can reach a different group of people here. I think the message is even more important coming out of a church. Frankly, I was shocked when I heard this would be done here."
Hahn said St. Thomas has always reached beyond its congregation.
"We have a really good relationship with the gay community in Columbus," Hahn said. "This play speaks to the ways a lot of groups are affected by hate crimes."
Shepard's murder is thought to be another hate crime motivated by homophobia.
But cast member Laura Lowe begs to differ.
"What happened to Matthew Shepard is a case of discrimination to gays, which is the same as discrimination to blacks and to other minorities," she said. "It's all the same."
Lowe, who is black, has been a member of St. Thomas for four years.
"This is not a gay issue," agrees Marquette McKnight, who has not been in a play in 1982 since she did "The Music Man" at the Springer.
"I think this is a very important show because it shows what can happen when certain biases people hold" turns violent, Lowe said.
Anderson sees today's world in the same place regarding sexuality as it was in the 1960s with racial issues.
The St. Thomas congregation, she said, has been very supportive of the play being presented in its fellowship hall.
"I think we all need to make peace with who God is," Anderson said. "Having had my own moment of not wanting to be part of organized religion, I have come back to church. I think all voices of the church need to be heard. And here we are."
The cast of 22 — all volunteering their time — have been rehearsing off-and-on three or four times a week since March. Half are members of the congregation, others are not, Hahn said.
There will be some very familiar faces on stage, including Raymond Campbell, B.J. Landen and Kristen Metcalfe. Others have not been on stage in more than 20 years, including Marquette McKnight, Judy Gunter and Linda Harmon.
"The last show I did was 'Miss Reardon Drinks a Little' at the Springer," Gunter said. That was in the 1985-86 season.
McKnight, who did a lot of children's theater in the past at the Springer, said Anderson and Valentini asked her to audition.
"It was something I had planned to do again at one point," she said. "So this was the opportunity."
McKnight plays Reggie, the deputy who discovers Shepard's body, draped over a barbed wire fence.
"This is such a powerful play," she said. "I have not gotten through a rehearsal yet without being stunned. I weep at every single rehearsal."
Hahn warns that there is adult language and is an adult play.
"I want people to know that you are not coming to see a western," he said with a smile.
IF YOU GO WHAT: "The Laramie Project," the play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in Laramie When: 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday Where: St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 2100 Hilton Ave., Columbus Admission: Free, but must have a ticket Information: 706-324-4264