It’s still getting to me

Jacob Tobia

So, I know, I’ve been crying a lot during rehearsal. Like, a whole lot. As in at least two times a day, which is starting to feel a bit ridiculous by now, but I think that’s because I’m doing this whole acting thing the right way. You know how directors say that you’re supposed to make new discoveries every night? How you’re supposed to come to new realizations about the play, or the incident, or the character each time you perform the show?

Well, I feel like I’m having new realizations every night, although it might be most fair to call them extrapolations really, because they’re just sort of my mind spinning away from the text.

Sometimes they’re really nice, but sometimes they’re pretty awful. So without further ado, here is what runs through my mind when I’m sitting up there on stage and sobbing my eyes out.

One thing that occurred to me last night, as I was watching Reggie Fluty describe Matthew’s condition when she found him, was that Matthew had braces. I know that I say it in Dennis Shepard’s speech, but I never really applied that to the moment he was murdered until last night. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had braces, but when you have braces, if you get hit in the mouth, even lightly, it can be extremely painful, because your braces dig into your gums. So last night, I began to think about Matthew’s mouth, and how the inside of it was probably ripped to shreds because of his braces, each blow of Aaron’s pistol embedding his braces more deeply into the soft tissue on the inside of his mouth. And then I realized that maybe that’s why Reggie couldn’t open up his mouth, because of all of the blood that would have accumulated in that process.

Not a particularly happy thought, eh?

Another thing I thought about for the first time a few weeks ago was just how terrifying that car ride must have been for Matthew. While the details will never be fully known, if the account that is given in the play is correct, when Matthew got in the car, he was probably convinced that he was going to get lucky that night, and potentially even have a threesome with Aaron and Russell. While I don’t have proof that that is for certain what happened, I sincerely doubt that Matthew would have gotten into the car with them just to get a ride home. He clearly was rich enough to call a cab if he needed one. So he gets in the car thinking that he’s going to have a proverbial “good night.” And I can’t help thinking about the few moments after they first got in the car, when Matthew, according to Aaron himself, began reaching for Aaron’s leg and working his way up his thigh, when Aaron first punched him and told him that if he tried it again he was going to get it, when Matthew recoiled from Aaron’s blow, his head swirling with disorientation and pain, when Matthew realized that he was trapped between two people in a small truck and he had no way of escaping Aaron’s forthcoming blows, when Aaron beat him with his pistol while Russell continued driving, when Matthew screamed in a small enclosed space, realizing that he had absolutely no option for escape, and it goes on and on and on in my mind.

Then I think about the fence; the fence after Aaron and Russ decided that they had beaten him enough. I think about when Russ initially got back in the car, the image of Matthew bleeding and crying out framed in the intense glare of his headlights, Russell turns the ignition, the car roars to life, he puts it in reverse, and pulls away, the image of Matthew leaving his headlights as he drives away. And I wonder; what did he do after that. Did he put the radio on? Did he talk with Aaron? Did they sit there in silence? Did they roll down the windows? Did they have the heat on? Suddenly, all of these mundane details of basic human functioning seem so vitally important, because after such a fundamental betrayal of humanity, after such an inhumane and cruel expression of violence, I’m not sure if either of those men are entirely human, so how could they function as such? How could they perform even the most menial of tasks, like turning the key in the ignition of a car?

But not everything I think about during rehearsal is quite so gruesome; as a matter of fact, it is oftentimes beautiful. Four nights ago, I had a beautiful thought while watching Rulon Stacey announce Matthew’s death on national television. I thought about the thousands of mothers and fathers all over the world who had gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender children that they had cut off, that they had separated themselves from, or that they had disowned, and I saw them watching Rulon’s speech, hearing the part where Judy says that you should “Go home, hug your kids, and don’t let a day go by without telling them that you love them.” And I see that message start to really sink in. And I imagine those parents sitting there for an hour or two, questioning whether or not they should do it, and in my mind’s eye I see those parents walk over to the phone, hold it for five or ten minutes, and finally work up the courage to call their children; they dial the seven or ten digits that they have scrawled on a piece of paper that has been tucked away for a very long time, they hold the phone to their ear, their hand potentially shaking, and on the other end the phone rings and their kid who they haven’t spoken to ever since they came out picks up the phone:


“Yes, hello son.”

It takes a moment for their kid to recognize the voice on the other end.


“Yes, um, I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been hearing a lot with the news and all, and I just thought I should call and say hello.”

And at some point in the conversation the words become less and less important as someone’s gay son or lesbian daughter receives the affirmation that they’ve waited for their entire life, and hears their parent say those four words that they haven’t heard since the day, years ago, that they first said, “Dad, I’m gay.”

“I love you son.”

And honestly, when I think about that, I don’t mind if I look ridiculous crying on stage.

3 thoughts on “It’s still getting to me

  1. Jacob —

    I don’t think there’s any “ridiculous” to be had when responding emotionally to this play. In fact, after so much focus on technical detail, it’s very gratifying to hear that the circumstances and details of THE WORDS are still hitting their mark, still drawing our intellectual and emotional attentions.

    You know as we were driving home from watching that part of the run, yesterday, my wife was commenting to me how the sweep of Torry’s set was so evocative. It can stand for so many things, she said, the horizon of the prairie in Laramie, Matthew’s smile, even the concave portion of his skull. Now, I’d not considered that last one, but the more I did the more significance the center X — where Emma begins narrating the play — took on for me. It also made me think about the very visceral nature of Matthew’s injuries and how Aaron, Reggie and Dr. Cantway in that last scene of Act 1 negotiate their horror at seeing Matthew. Fear and revulsion are a bit hard to conjure in documentary plays, sometimes, because things are often staged as “recall” or from memory. Certainly watching someone slowing remember horror and then try and articulate that horror as she/he is reliving it is a powerful powerful thing, but it’s different than having is played out before us. In this text, the two times where the physical character — the blood, how the braces must have cut up his lips and face, the small body stricken by hypothermia — all these details of Matthew’s death take center stage in that scene at the end of Act 1 and then the job of description is passed along to Rulon’s updates.

    Thinking about what Matthew’s “rescuers” see of him and his injuries puts me in a similar mindset as yours when I think of how little Aaron and Russell must have been thinking of as they 1) beat him and then 2) left him out there so demonstrably and horribly injured. You know, in one source I gave Cameron, Andy & Spencer, there was a report from a highway patrol car out near the area where Aaron & Russell left Matthew. The deputy reported seeing a black truck driving carefully out of an unpaved section of a development after Midnight. The truck was moving slow, with no apparent need to call attention to itself, so the cop noticed it but didn’t investigate. He just went on his way to clock out of a long shift. If he had followed them, stopped them, maybe seen the evidence (the credit card, the shoes, the bloody gun) how much sooner might Matthew have been found? For Rob DeBree, it was this kind of consideration on the part of Aaron and Russell that made the murder pre-meditated. Though they are pretty quickly discovered, at least in those immediate moments after the beating, restraining, and abandoning, they do their very best to make sure they are not caught and that Matthew is not found. They know what they have done is wrong, they do not imagine that he will live to tell his story, and they decide to go on about their lives.

    I love the scene you imagine and I’d hazard a guess that things like that did happened in some homes, across some estrangements, in the wake of news about Matthew’s death. I think that one reason the play has had such a longevity is its ability to tap into parent/child relationships. Within the text we hear all the well-trod arguments (religious, social, physical) about homosexuality, but we also hear equally compelling arguments about mercy, love, and acceptance. And while Jonas is right that the legal change has a long way to go, the very fact that Naomi did this play when she was in 9TH GRADE!, shows that some doors of conversation have been opened and been opened for people much younger than the interviewed citizens of Laramie. And when I think about that, I don’t mind shedding a tear at my computer as I type this response and think about what kind of conversations my child will have.


  2. Jacob and Jules,
    Such beautiful, thoughtful posts! Jacob, your descriptions just made me think so much more deeply about the horror Matthew endured. I find it hard sometimes, having heard the play so many times, to still feel the emotions, but you just reminded me how to. Especially when I’m playing Lucy Thompson, it’s really hard for me to feel any real emotion – maybe because she’s on the “bad” side? I don’t know. I’m going to try thinking about her a lot more tomorrow night.
    Thanks for these posts,

  3. Jacob, This is an incredible post. It’s amazing how your mind can take you deeper and deeper into what the text doesn’t say.

    I have also in both rehearsals and performance been struck by the details. They catch me off guard at the strangest moments and leave a lump in my throat.

    You are doing such a terrific job. Your choices are strong, articulate and filled with an understanding of the story and a passion that radiates from your performance.

    Thank you for being a part of this. I hope we get to work together again soon.

    I want to know what you think about EDITH soon.

    Your Best Friend, Jeffrey

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