"The Laramie Project" is haunting, impassioned theater filled with raw emotion, that is delivered by a profoundly moving cast at Northampton Community College theater department. The play that looks at a horrific hate crime by examining the many people who lived in the very ordinary town in which it happened, is on the colleges Norman Roberts Lab Theatre through March 11.

Although the campus is reeling from the sudden death of Bill Mutimer, the head of the colleges theater department, it was decided "the show must go on."

Brett Oliveira, the shows technical director, spoke before the show, saying "Bill was very excited that the college was doing "The Laramie Project" on the 25th anniversary of Matthew Shepards death."

Oliveira said the play is about "taking tragedy and turning it into hope and that is the perfect tribute with what many people are feeling this week."NCCLaramie

"The Laramie Project" which centers around the brutal 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was robbed, beaten, tied to a fence and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming, is frequently painful to watch, but the horror is balanced by the humor layered into nearly every Laramie resident encountered in the play.

Moisés Kaufman, (a heartfelt Andrew Maldonado) and members of his New York-based Tectonic Theater Project traveled to Laramie to try to learn why such brutality happened in this small town. "The Laramie Project" is what grew from conversations that happened during six visits in 18 months and the groups more than 200 interviews with residents are powerfully recreated on stage.

The towns characters are fascinatingly complex and run the gamut from judgmental and hateful to compassionate and selfless.

Through the interviews, the play takes the audience through the hours leading up to the murder, the investigation, the vigils, Matts funeral and the trials of the two young men who committed the crime.

The stage is arranged with audience members on both sides of the stage for an immersive effect. The set is simple with chairs that are moved around and bordered on end end by a stark fence. The moody lighting is somber and effective.

The ensemble who brings more than 60 characters vividly to life includes Maldonaldo, Brooke Harrsch, Azelia Dos-Santos, Tamara Decker, Meaghan Lawlor, Cade Kocher, Aidan King, and Aidan Weller.

Although all characters have depth and agency, several stand out.

Maldonado is scathing as Dennis Shepard, Matts heartbroken father who, through his unbearable pain, provides a moment of mercy.

Harrsch plays the shaken bicyclist who found Matt and wonders what plan God had to bring her to that place at that time.

Harrsch also gives a empowered defiance to Matts close friend and lesbian activist Romaine Patterson, who organizes a group of "angels" to block the anti-gay rantings of Fred Phelps (a strident Aidan King) of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, at Matts funeral.

Kocher plays an earnest Jedadiah Schultz, a 19-year-old acting student who goes against his parents to perform a scene from "Angels in America," and feels Laramie has been defined by the crime.

Kocher also plays the emergency room doctor who is horrified at the extent of Matts injuries and ponders the irony that he treated both Matt and one of his assailants the same night.

King is memorable as forthright bartender Matt Galloway, who observed Matt and his assailants the night of the attack and wonders if he could have prevented it, by intervening. King is surprisingly funny as Matts driver and friend Doc OConnor who tells it like it is.

Weller is compassionate as hospital CEO Rulon Stacey who weeps on his televised condition updates, and insightful as Father Roger Schmidt, a Catholic priest who held a vigil for Matt and understand how poisonous homophobia is. Weller also plays Jonas Slonaker, an openly gay resident of Laramie who is frustrated by the lack of any anti-discrimination legislation.

Lawlor adds a gentle humor to long-time Laramie resident Marge Murray, who is not shy about her opinions.

Decker is appealing as Reggie Fluty, a police officer who aided a blood-covered Matt and finds she has been exposed to HIV; and Rebecca Hilliker, the supportive head of the theater department at the University of Wyoming.

Dos-Santos is conflicted as Catherine Connolly, a professor at the University of Wyoming who is the first 'out' lesbian faculty member.

Director Clair Freeman who has paced the show perfectly, echoes Oliveiras sentiments about their lost colleague saying the show turns "pain into action and action into hope."

Tickets are $5.

Performances are 2 p.m. March 10 and 7:30 p.m. March 11

For tickets, call 484-484-3412, or go to www.northampton.edu/.