People struggling with addiction, their loved ones and the drug that’s destroying their lives are among the characters in a new play opening at the Akron Civic Theater tonight.
“(In)Dependent: The Heroin Project” is a gritty look at how opioid addiction can grab people, destroy relationships and test the human spirit.
The play grew indirectly from a crime scene photo taken last year in East Liverpool. The image shows a young boy in the back seat of a car, staring blankly at the camera, while his grandmother and her companion sit unconscious in the front seat, overdosed on heroin. The photo made international headlines, and it had a major impact on Emelia Sherin.
“This is horrible, and it’s heartbreaking because these two people are sick. Do you really think they wanted to do that? No, they felt like they had to. Because it’s the only way they can survive.”
At the time, Sherin had just started college at Kent State.
“My first semester -- all throughout the fall and winter, I would lock myself in my room on the weekends and just read. I would just read and research all of these different aspects of heroin: the drug and addicts and treatment and everything from the inside out. From the neurobiology to the legislative facts about it.”
Sherin ended up conducting 50 interviews with healthcare professionals, people struggling with addiction and people in recovery. Their stories coalesced into the play she co-wrote with a fellow Kent State student, which runs at the Akron Civic Theater tonight and tomorrow as part of the ongoing Millennial Theater Project.
A vixen and temptress
One of the central characters in “(In)Dependent” is a woman who is struggling to get clean, played by Grace Offerdahl.
“Heroin is sort of like a vixen, a seductress, a temptress. So it’s sort of like she’s in a relationship with my character and also in a relationship with the guy opposite me, Ryan.”
That relationship plays out like an abusive romance. Heidi Holmwood says her personification of heroin will elicit different emotions depending on the audience.
“I guess part of it has to do with some sort of anger. I mean, it’s what’s been in charge of their lives for so long. But I think a part of it -- at least for a lot of the people who are recovering in the audience -- is a sense of closure. And that’s what I hope this show gives: some sense of closure.”
From all sides
David Monter has spent eight years trying to find that closure. He plays the stepfather of a man struggling to stay sober, and he himself has been in recovery for almost a decade. Along with acting, he’s also worked as a counselor.
“Having seen this from all sides, I know how people think about addicts. Even in the worst of my active use, I never looked like an addict. You couldn’t say, ‘that guy’s a junkie.’ But I was. And so, I understand people’s perceptions of that, and that’s what we’re hoping to change. It can be anybody and there are ways to help people.”
Isaac Beach has seen that first-hand. He’s worked with Emelia Sherin in the past on theatrical productions, and says he wanted to get involved because this script is so realistic.
“I’m from Trumbull County, and Warren is one of [the] very heavily hit areas with this epidemic. So I see it every day in the news, I see it with my friends and some of my classmates from high school: they got involved with drugs and overdosed. It’s just sad, it’s heartbreaking and it really drew me to that and I wanted to work on something that really brought light to that.”
Going beyond the stage
Beach also credits Emelia Sherin – and her co-writer, Zachary Manthey – for their commitment to helping people with “(In)Dependent: The Heroin Project”: proceeds from the play will go to Oriana House, and there will also be a collection box for toiletries for people at the residential treatment center.
“I myself am not a heroin or opioid addict. However, I am an ally. And I will sit down and I will listen and I will understand. And that’s what I hope people do for this show, is to simply listen, learn and understand.”