"The Laramie Project," a dramatization of the hate-crime murder of a gay Wyoming teenager, will be performed Thursday through Sunday by the Staples Players.

The play, the high school troupe's Black Box Theatre production, will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the school.

"The Laramie Project" is based on the story of Matthew Shepard, whose 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyo., prompted a national debate on tolerance and gay rights. The play has mature language and the subject matter is not suitable for children, according to the production team.

The Staples Players next year will produce the sequel to the first play, "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later," part of what is considered the Laramie Project Cycle.

"We feel it's crucial that students be exposed to -- and involved in -- theater that has something important to say, and that can cause change and enlightenment in the world," David Roth, director of the Staples Players, said in a release publicizing the production. "The Laramie Project continues to do just that, even over 15 years since Matthew Shepard's death."

The Laramie Project was created in 2000 by Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project. The play draws on hundreds of interviews conducted by the theater company with inhabitants of the town, company members' journal entries and published news reports. It is divided into three acts and eight actors portray more than 60 characters in a series of short scenes.

Ten years after Shepard's murder the group returned to Wyoming and did followup interviews with residents featured in the play. Those interviews were turned into a companion piece, "The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later," which the Staples Players plan to stage next year.

"When we found out that the members of the Tectonic Theater Project had gone back to Laramie 10 years after the death of Matthew Shepard and that they had written an entirely new work about what had changed or not changed in the town and with the characters during the ensuing decade, we knew that it was time to revisit Laramie and produce both plays inStaples Players first-ever `cycle,'" Kerry Roth, co-director of the production, said in the release.

"The Laramie Project has long been a very important play to both Kerry and I," Roth said. "We first directed it at the Westport Community Theater, and then were the first high school to produce it in Connecticut."

"We both feel that it is not only important because of its topical and important message, but is also a riveting piece of theater," he said.

Tickets for "The Laramie Project" are $15 for adults and $10 for students, and can be purchased online at www.staplesplayers.com or at the door a half-hour before performances, as available.