Student-written play delves into aftermath of mental illness

By: Taylor DeVille, Contributing Writer

In “After,” performed April 20 through 23, senior Timothy Huth tackled the daunting emotional distress experienced by those who are left behind after a loved one takes their own life.

Written by Huth and directed by Kathleen Whitby, “After” follows Amy (Rose Hahn), a young girl who battles depression and self-harm as she struggles to maintain healthy relationships with her mother, sister, her first girlfriend and her husband Mark (Nick Maka).

The show opens with Mark writing Amy’s obituary. The barren set made up of three ramshackle walls seemed to reflect the emptiness felt by the characters and set the tone of the show.

As we learn more about Amy and her family, it’s clear that each character is consumed by their own demons and is unable to emotionally support Amy. While trying to be there for Amy, Mark suffers from severe anxiety and her sister Katherine (Anastasia Lehukey) struggles with the guilt of having an abortion.

LeAnne (Grace Kane), Amy’s religious mother, faces feelings of inadequacy as the parent of a depressed, bisexual daughter, and still feels abandoned by her deceased husband who was killed while driving drunk.

In particular, Kane’s performance as LeAnne brought vibrancy and tenderness to a character that could easily be written off as deserving of her fate.

LeAnne usually acknowledges Amy’s self-harm in a cavalier way, yells at her husband’s grave that it’s his fault Amy is depressed and also invalidates Amy’s sexuality repeatedly. On paper, the character is not quite redeemable—but Kane’s vulnerability as LeAnne makes you almost empathize with her—a single mother who doesn’t understand her daughters but asks God to help her accept them anyway.

“Every character has elements of someone I know, someone I love,” Huth said. “This is as much a love letter to my friends and family as it is a journey through my own mental illness and experiences.”

In the playwright’s note of the program, Huth explains that “After” was a story he began writing in January 2013—and seeing it brought to life is both cathartic and “weird as hell.” This is Huth’s first full-length production he’s written and is also the first to be fully staged.

One feat of the performance was the seamlessness of the non-linear scene changes—the show jumps from various points of past to present and somehow the audience is never lost. The actors cleverly use props or elements of the set to connect one scene to the next.

For instance, Amy and her girlfriend Miranda (Nicole Sliwka) roll around under the covers of a bed directly behind LeAnne, who talks to her priest in a confessional booth. When LeAnne finishes her monologue, Amy pulls back the covers to reveal that she’s in bed with Mark, not Miranda, signifying the time jump. Huth credits costume designer Devin O’Neill and lighting designer Thomas Gardner for helping to create the production’s fluidity.

As far as the message of the show goes, Huth is less concerned about what point he is or isn’t making, and is more interested in what audience members took away from it. The choice to include suicide prevention resources and information in the program is a sobering touch that speaks to Huth’s desire to reach those who are affected by mental illness.

“For me it really hits home,” junior Jessica Schwing said. “I have very bad anxiety, so seeing somebody perceive mental illness as I perceive it…it’s nice to see that somebody else understands.”

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