News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 18, 2013

Deadly Serious: Play frankly addresses problems teens face

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Andrew is a teenager with many problems.

His dad is cheating on his mom, and as a result, he loses his focus in high school and his grades are suffering — which could affect his college scholarship.

He learns his girlfriend is pregnant.

Weighed down by many burdens, Andrew falls into a deep depression and sees only one way out — he kills himself.

That was the scenario in “Dead Serious About Life,” a play/musical about the problems and choices teenagers face. An Ohio-based not-for-profit Christian group, Mishpachah Inc., performed the play Saturday and Sunday at Northview High School.

The production deals with teen suicide, pregnancy, abortion, bullying, sex, peer pressure, self- mutilation and much more.

The main goal of “Dead Serious” is to prevent teen suicide.

Susan Treash, who helped organize the showing of the production at Northview, hopes that teens who see the play realize “there is hope and there is help out there.”

The story begins when Todd and Stephanie, a brother and sister, are left alone for a weekend and decide to host a big party. It’s through the party that the audience learns about the variety of characters in the performance.

Justin O’Neil portrays Andrew, the teenager who decides to end his life. O’Neil wanted to perform in the play because as a teenager, he has seen “firsthand all these problems that kids my age deal with — myself included.”

A lot of kids “don’t really know there’s another way out besides cutting themselves or taking their own lives,” he said.

Through the play, “We let kids know there is a better way. You can tell people about your problems,” he said. “There are so many people who will listen — teachers, counselors at school, parents — if they aren’t part of the problem.”

Also, being part of a church “provides you with this community of people who can help you through the stuff you are dealing with,” O’Neil said.

Another performer, Rachel Sullivan, plays the character of Emily, who is shy, introverted and bullied by others at the party, which was her first. Andrew was “pretty much her only friend,” she explained

Sullivan wanted to be involved with “Dead Serious” because she wants to be part of changing lives, she said.

Cory Evans portrays the character Zack, an arrogant basketball player who bullies others. After the suicide, Zack feels badly about not being there for Andrew and not being aware that his friend was hurting.

While Zack’s father has been obsessed with his son’s success in athletics, Zack realizes there is more to life than playing basketball.

Evans said when he saw the play two years ago, he was experiencing his own dark times. “I knew I had to do this,” he said.

Madison MacKinnon plays Heidi, the “ho” at the party, who sleeps around with different guys. Heidi is promiscuous because it’s a way for her to get love and affection. Heidi’s parents don’t care about her and are not around, MacKinnon explained.

MacKinnon saw the play in seventh grade and “it changed my life.” She was considering suicide herself, but the play made her realize the tremendous hurt that suicide would cause those she loved.

Among those who saw the play over the weekend was Mannah Mace, 16, a Clay County high school student.

It helped open her eyes and realize that her peers really are dealing with those kinds of issues. “I need to be willing to help them get through rough times and not just stand back and do nothing,” Mace said.

She wants to be a friend who listens and talks to those who are hurting and tells them that everything will get better.

Mace said the students in the play “did a fantastic job” portraying real-life problems.

Mace’s brother, Asher, 14, said the play reminded him that he needs to make wise choices in his life.

It also helped him realize how he can help others deal with tough situations and make the right decisions, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.