The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project

The Laramie Project Act 1: The Fireside Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Stephen Belber and Barbara Pitts go to the Fireside Bar, where Matthew Shepard was last seen on the night of his murder. The bar has pool tables and a stage for karaoke. First, Stephen and Barbara talk to Matt Mickelson, the bar’s owner. Matt Mickelson talks about his family’s history in Laramie, saying his grandfather opened an opera house and Wyoming was the first place in the world where a woman cast a ballot in an election. Matt wants to reopen an opera house and restaurant, and Fireside is his initial foray into that.
Matt Mickelson’s claims about Wyoming’s history as the first state that allowed women’s suffrage suggests that, in the past, Wyoming was a site of progress and individual freedom. By reminding the audience of this history, the playwrights seem to be suggesting that Wyoming’s conservative views on LGBT rights are not inevitable, or even really traditional, for Wyoming.
Themes
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Barbara Pitts turns the conversation back to Matthew Shepard, and Matt Mickelson tells her that the night Matthew died, he came into the bar for a beer. Matt Mickelson suggests that the interviewers talk to Matt Galloway, the bartender. Matt Galloway tells them that Matthew showed up alone around ten-thirty and ordered a Heineken. Matt Galloway says that Matthew was a very polite customer who tipped well and made good conversation.
Matt Mickelson and Matt Galloway describe Matthew Shepard as a model customer, offering an alternative version of Matthew’s bar-going to the rumors calling Matthew a “barfly” and implying he was constantly trying to pick up men. This suggests that Matthew’s habits may have been skewed to discredit or even blame him as a victim.
Themes
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Matt Galloway says that on that night at around eleven forty-five, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, Matthew’s murderers, came into the bar looking unkempt and acting rude. They bought a pitcher of beer with only coins and then went to play pool. Soon afterwards they returned to the main area of the bar, having apparently finished the beer. Matt Galloway assumed, however, that they did not have any money left to buy another.
In contrast to Matthew, Aaron and Russell arrive at the bar acting drunk and rowdy. While some townspeople comment negatively on Matthew’s bar-going, they do not do the same to Aaron and Russell, revealing that their negative portraits of Matthew have more to do with homophobic stereotypes than actual bad behavior.
Themes
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Matt Galloway says he saw Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson talking to Matthew Shepard after they came back into the main part of the bar. The narrator then introduces Kristin Price, Aaron McKinney’s girlfriend, who gives Aaron’s account of the meeting. She says that Matthew approached and propositioned Aaron. According to Kristin, Aaron and Russell then decided to pretend they were gay in order to rob Matthew. Matt Galloway totally refutes Kristin’s secondhand account, saying Matthew Shepard had no reason to approach them and that Matthew did not just come onto people indiscriminately (Matthew had, Matt Galloway notes, never come onto him).
Kristin Price’s secondhand account of Matthew and Aaron’s meeting, in which she states that Matthew tried to hit on Aaron, plays on stereotypes of gay men as promiscuous and sexually aggressive. Matt Galloway, who actually knew Matthew and who was present at the bar that night, does not think Matthew hit on Aaron whatsoever. This suggests that negative stereotypes can both warp people’s perceptions of events and serve as retrospective excuses for bad behavior and even violence.
Themes
Homophobia, Tolerance, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Violence, Punishment, and Justice Theme Icon
Get the entire The Laramie Project LitChart as a printable PDF.
The laramie project.pdf.medium
Romaine Patterson, however, notes that Matthew Shepard was a naturally chatty person, who would easily strike up a conversation with almost anyone. Phil Labrie adds that Matthew was gullible and often felt lonely, and he thinks that being alone must have made Matthew more vulnerable. Matt Galloway resumes his account of the events of the night, noting that he is an eyewitness in the criminal case. He says that he saw Matthew leave with two people he presumed to be Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. Matt Mickelson then tells the interviewers to talk with the DJ, Shadow, who was the last person Matthew spoke with that night. Shadow remembers that Aaron and Russell seemed anxious and the three men left in a small black truck. Shadow did not think anything was suspicious at the time.
While Matt Galloway’s account of what happened the night of Matthew’s attack seems reliable, friends of Matthew suggest that it is, in fact, possible Matthew initiated conversation with Aaron and Russell. The playwrights deliberately resist making a judgment about what they think really happened. In refusing to make concrete judgments about the facts of the case, the playwrights seem to imply that determining the objective truth about the details of Matthew’s murder is not their goal. To the playwrights, establishing with certainty whether Matthew hit on Aaron is not essential to telling Matthew or Laramie’s story.
Themes
Theater and Representation Theme Icon