‘(In)Dependent’ draws dozens to Kent State, raises awareness on drug addiction

Lennon Sackela and D’Ella Heschmeyer perform on stage in the Kiva on March 21, 2018. Photo courtesy of Sarah Jane Demetruk.

Ella Abbott

Dozens of students and community members came pouring into the Kiva Thursday night to watch the play “(In)Dependent”.

The play, written by Kent State students Emelia Sherin and Zachary Manthley, follows a group of people affected by the opioid crisis as they navigate the realities of addiction and recovery.

Sherin, a junior public relations major, wrote the story alongside Manthley as a summer project.

“Zach and I wrote this in three days,” Sherin said. “And then we edited it for two weeks, and then we sent it out, got it copyrighted and that’s been it.”

The play is based off of the accounts of 50 interviews with people affected by addiction, including police officers, current users, recovering addicts and families who have lost someone.

“Every character, every situation is based off of a true story,” Sherin said. “None of this is made up.”

Locked together in Sherin’s apartment, she and Manthley worked non-stop while listening to John Mulaney and eating pizza. A scene in the play is named for a joke in one of Mulaney’s specials as a reminder of their time spent together, cranking away on the play.

“(In)Dependent” debuted for the first time in August 2017 at the Akron Civic Theater. It also ran at the Youngstown Playhouse last summer. Now, the Youngstown cast has brought the play to Kent State.

Sherin is from Youngstown and grew up performing in theater.

“The (Youngstown) playhouse and these people are literally my family,” Sherin said. “It’s so meaningful that I get to have them here.”

It’s not just Ohio that’s taken notice of Sherin’s work; the play is moving to Massachusetts to be performed at the Academy of Music Theater Friday night.

The play takes a deep look at the way addiction affects people and the neurological side of it. Following two different characters who meet in recovery, it examines the different paths of someone with a support system and one without.

“Throughout the journey of these two people trying to stabilize themselves in recovery, they are met face-to-face with Heroin,” Sherin said.

Sherin wrote the drug heroin in as a personified relationship for the characters.

“The audience gets to visually see and hear how the drug affects people,” she said. “She’s very loving and caring one second when she’s getting what she wants, but the next, when you don’t give her what she wants, she’ll blow up on you until you feel bad and then you get sucked back into everything. It’s like a very toxic relationship.”

Maria Serra, a sophomore journalism major, plays the character Heroin.

Throughout the play, Serra’s character lurks in the edges of certain scenes, approaching the other characters like a shark. At Narcotics Anonymous meetings, she lingers as they tell stories of their addiction, trading barbs with the characters and attempting to lure them back into her grasp.

Serra wanted to be a part of the play because she believed the story was educational and could do something good.

“A lot of people use the theater for entertainment, but this is an education piece,” Serra said. “It can entertain, it can inform and it can empower people.”

Sarah Jane Demetruk directed the play and called the vision for it “minimalism.”

“It’s reality that’s on the stage,” Demetruk said. “And we’re trying to present something that’s real, but in an artistic way.”

Everything from the lighting to the clothes symbolize something. Characters would come into frame in shades of black, grey and white — the clothing meant to symbolize their stage of recovery.

During one scene, one of the main characters, played by D’Ella Heschmeyer, argues with Serra’s character. When she storms out, leaving her addiction behind in her apartment, she covers her black shirt up with a grey jacket.

“I was really thrilled to be involved in a production that is so meaningful and so impactful,” Heschmeyer said.

Demetruk said she hoped the play wasn’t just entertainment for those who came to saw it, but an experience.

“We want them to see a real life situation and have them be in it,” Demetruk said.

At its heart, the play is a story meant to engage the viewer and teach them something they might not know about addiction. In the final scene, one of the main characters, played by Lennon Sackela, speaks directly to the audience about how addiction affects everyone either directly or indirectly.

Sherin researched everything from the neuroscience of addiction to the way it affects and is affected by politics, finances and economics.

“It’s insane how much addiction really does affect our society, not just directly, but indirectly,” Sherin said. “Your taxes are being affected by it, your community is being affected by it.”

Sackela plays Ryan, one of the lead characters, and said it was an educational experience for himself just to be a part of it.

“It was very uncomfortable,” Sackela said. “This subject isn’t something that I knew nearly as much about. It’s taught me a lot, which I’m thankful for.”

Donations at the play were taken to support Oriana House, a rehabilitation center based out of Akron. Over all of its productions, Sherin said “(In)Dependent” has raised over $3,000 for local rehabilitation centers.

Ella Abbott in a senior reporter. Contact her at [email protected].