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Westboro Baptist Church says it will protest L.A. stage production of 'The Laramie Project'

December 7, 2010 |  1:12 pm

Shepard The Westboro Baptist Church is once again threatening to protest "The Laramie Project." This time, the production of the play on the church's radar is in Los Angeles.

Headed by Fred Phelps, the fundamentalist group is planning to picket "The Laramie Project," currently being produced at the Pico Playhouse by the Mechanicals Theatre Group. The protest is set for Sunday evening, according to a post on a website run by the church.

The Westboro Baptist Church has a history of staging protests at funerals and issuing anti-gay statements. The church also has protested or threatened to protest "The Laramie Project" at productions around the country.

"The Laramie Project" is a drama written by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project that addresses the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. The play draws on interviews with citizens of Laramie, Wyo., the town where Shepard was beaten to death in an act of anti-gay violence. The play has been widely produced around the country since debuting nearly 10 years ago.

Phelps is one the characters portrayed in the play.

The current production of "The Laramie Project" at the Pico Playhouse is benefiting the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide and crisis prevention for gay youth. The limited-run engagement opened Dec. 2 and is set to close Sunday, which is the same day as the Westboro Baptist Church's scheduled protest.

The Westboro Baptist Church garnered national media attention when it picketed the funeral of Shepard. The church has since staged protests at a number of military funerals as well as the funerals of celebrities and prominent religious leaders.

Phelps' anti-gay rhetoric has provoked condemnation from numerous political and religious figures. The church also has been the subject of a number of lawsuits.

In a statement sent out Tuesday, the Mechanicals Theatre Group said its production of "The Laramie Project" coincides with what would have been Shepard's 34th birthday. 

Peter Wittrock, the director of "The Laramie Project" and a member of the Mechanicals Theatre Group, said in a phone interview Tuesday that Phelps' organization has a "constitutional right to [protest] ... but I don't think it will stop anyone from going into the play."

-- David Ng

Photo: Matthew Shepard. Credit: Associated Press

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