It happened in Manhattan recently.
When Eric Ostrow was hired last year to teach drama at Xavier High School in Manhattan, as a newcomer he chose two impeccably innocuous shows for student productions. The first was a comedy, “Epic Proportions,” and then came the musical “Grease,” with its script scrubbed of profanity and one character’s unwed pregnancy papered over in euphemisms.
Xavier’s production of “The Laramie Project,” about the murder of a gay student, had the administration’s support.
Then, late last spring, Mr. Ostrow presented school administrators with his wish list for year two. It was to stage “The Laramie Project,” Moises Kaufman’s play about the murder of a gay college student, Matthew Shepard. And if Mr. Ostrow thought he might be shocking his bosses with the proposal, then he was soon shocked in return.
Not only did Xavier’s president and headmaster approve the plan for “Laramie,” they informed Mr. Ostrow that he was not exactly breaking new ground. Xavier had performed “Laramie” in the 2002-3 school year, standing by the production even amid some eye-rolling and grumbling among faculty members and parents and a smattering of picketing from fundamentalist Christians.
Last weekend, Mr. Ostrow’s cast performed the play three times to a total of 470 theatergoers. English and religion teachers gave their students extra credit to see “Laramie” and write responses. Parents who had initially quailed about their children being in the show gave standing ovations. Spectators bought hundreds of “Erase Hate” wristbands to benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Nothing happened, which is a way of saying that everything happened. To use a Sherlock Holmes aphorism, this was the case of the dog that did not bark. The deep significance of Xavier’s production of “Laramie” — of a Catholic school doing a play with an H.I.V.-positive, bar-going gay man as the object of the audience’s empathy — is that it stirred about as much controversy as, say, “Our Town.”
“I’m thrilled we did it,” Jack Raslowsky, Xavier’s president, said in an interview this week. “It’s one of those plays that has the potential to be a springboard to discussion. If you do ‘The Mousetrap’ or ‘Brigadoon,’ you’re not going to be discussing issues of good and evil.”