Teen suicide is a difficult topic to discuss and to present artistically, because for many people the subject is too disconcerting to address.
Yet, Clarissa Shepherd, a prevention specialist at Four Rivers Behavioral Health, said that on a map indicating where suicides occur nationally, "There's a big, red hotspot over Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois."
She added, "Teen suicide in McCracken County has been on the rise."
So, the Market House Theatre's production of "Just Like I Wanted," a play that addresses teen suicide head on, is perfectly timed. All three performances -- 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday -- will be followed immediately by a conversation between the audience and health professionals.
The play will be in the Studio Theatre, 120 Market House Square. Tickets cost $12, or $6 for students, and are available at martkethousetheatre.org or by calling 270-444-6828.
The Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" addresses teen suicide, but it received blowback from the public and mental-health professionals because it broached a serious subject but did not provide resources for teens in crises. As a result of the criticism, an additional episode that provides resources was added.
Shepherd thinks teens should not watch "13 Reasons Why" because it "sanitizes suicide" and is "completely inaccurate," she said. She will, however, be one of the medical professionals featured in the talk-back after the performances on Friday and Saturday.
"I believe very strongly in theater as a tool for social change and for the ability to bring an important topic to the consciousness of the public. And, as such, we are bringing in health professionals who are experts in this field," said April Cochran, who directs the show and is the MHT's education director.
"You can never do a show like this without having a talk-back afterwards. You don't throw a bomb out into your community and then say, 'Now go home,'" Cochran said.
The play, which features a cast of 18 and runs about 45 minutes, was written by Rebecca Schlossberg and contains some strong teenager language.
In addition to answering questions, the medical professionals will "be bringing resource materials with them as well, so that this very sensitive and important topic can be discussed," Cochran said.
Though the subject of the play is teen suicide, the audience for the play is not limited.
"I am aware of people who are coming to see the show who are adults, because a family member has struggled with (thoughts of suicide)," Cochran said. "So, yes, I think this show is for a broad range of ages, just being mindful of what the topic is."
Shepherd said the majority of people who commit suicide are middle-aged, adding, "There is an obvious correlation between substance use and suicide." So, with methamphetamines and opioids ravaging the region, this play may resonate with a large segment of the population.
Sally Carter, a children and adolescent therapist who plays the teacher in the play, also thinks "13 Reasons Why" glamorizes suicide. She said she would not have been a part of "Just Like I Wanted," nor would the Market House Theatre have put it on, if the play did not present a realistic view of suicide and its consequences.
"It's a poignant look at what happens (with suicide)," Carter said. "I think it's going to be a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn."
Joey, the character who commits suicide, is played by Isaac Galliher. "It's a very raw piece that deals with dark issues," Galliher said. Speaking of teens and suicide, he said, "I do feel we talk about it too casually."