Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mental Health Awareness Featured in HHS Play

I was treated to a sneak preview of the HHS Forensics production of The Boys Next Door yesterday. To say I was blown away is an understatement. The play focuses on the lives of four men living with mental disabilities in an assisted living facility and their caretaker.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month with activities centered around helping remove the stigma that is often attached to mental illness and disability. By portraying these characters with such care and respect the students' performances give the audience a glimpse of what millions of Americans live with every day.
Often the play is emotional and tugs at your heart strings, while it is also lighthearted and funny. One of the things I appreciated most was that the humor was never at the expense of the characters' disabilities. It was simply characters in humorous situations or the simple comedy of misunderstanding.
Maybe one of the most magical scenes was at a dance. Two characters, both with a pronounced disability, are dancing together. At first they dance in an awkward, somewhat stilted gate, as the dance would seem to anyone else looking at them. But then it shifts and we see the dance as these two characters are feeling it. They transform into graceful, synchronized figures performing an elegant routine. It was simply beautiful.
I've seen dozens of high school plays and productions, many with bigger sets or more extravagant costumes but none with the powerful level of care and emotion I witnessed in the Black Box Theater Wednesday afternoon. "Moving" doesn't even come close to expressing the impact.
I commend the students and their teachers and the director for reaching for something truly special and important with this play. It is entertaining for sure, but it also broaches a topic that really matters.
They will be bringing in some other students from Hattiesburg High School's Community Based class as extras in one scene, and Mrs. Nan Davis was there to help give the students feedback on their portrayal. To see that sweet, devoted educator brought to tears by the loving portrayal of people so like the students she has served over her entire career was a beautiful thing. Her praise for the actors and the story seemed like the best endorsement you could ever hope for with a story like this. The people who know, like Mrs. Davis, they got it! They felt it. And you should, too.
The showtimes for The Boys Next Door are May 15 & 16 at 7pm and May 17 at 2pm. The show is only $5 and seating is limited, so book your tickets in advance! Tickets can be reserved by emailing: scott.waldrop@hattiesburgpsd.com