August 2014

The death of Robin Williams has shaken a lot of people, myself included. My thoughts go out to his family, friends and colleagues.

But they also go out to those who have depression in their lives (either themselves or a loved one).

It’s really hard when someone in the public eye who is dealing with the same shit you (or your loved one, etc) are dealing with not make it. And you realize you have to be stronger than the person you’ve looked up to or admired for years.

Depression (and other mental illnesses) is not selective. It didn’t matter that Robin Williams was one of the most beloved comedians of all time. His fame, his money, his status didn’t stop him from battling with depression.

My doctor told me I was depressed in high school (though I believe I was mis-diagnosed and “anxiety” would have been more appropriate). I tried not to let that label define me, but at times it gets rough. I have low days. Hell, there have been low weeks. But I always try to tell myself that things will get better and that there are people who love me. Sometimes that feels like I’m lying to myself, but I’d like to believe there are better things ahead if I can just keep sticking it out.

Seeking help is the opposite of cowardly. Family, friends, doctors, helplines and other resources are out there.

It sometimes feels like you are alone (and sometimes you really just want to be alone), but there are others out there. I know I tend to keep all the rough stuff to myself because I don’t want to burden others, or I don’t want to seem weak. (I’m 30, I feel like I should have everything figured out by now… Even though I totally don’t.)

I have never felt so low that I would end things. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had those kinds of thoughts. Everyone has had those kinds of thoughts, though. Don’t think there is something wrong with you because of them. We’re all messed up, okay? But it’s how we deal with that knowledge that is important.

You are loved. I am loved. We are loved.

(“We are Groot,” okay?)

Heathers the Musical allows audiences to experience the worst parts of high school over and over again through the catchy score and darkly twisted stage adaptation of this 1989 cult classic.

The show starts on the first day of Veronica Sawyer’s [Charissa Hogeland] senior year. Friends with the unpopular chubby girl, Veronica suddenly finds herself hanging out with the uber-popular trio of Heathers [Jessica Keenan Wynn, Elle McLemore, Kristolyn Lloyd] who rule the school and treat just about everyone like crap. Veronica knows the Heathers and their fans are bad people, but popularity trumps morals and she willingly dumps her friend and goes along with them. When new kid JD [Dave Thomas Brown] shows up, Veronica (and the audience, let’s be real) is immediately intrigued with his general badass-ness and they quickly become the audience’s OTP. Until they aren’t.

After confrontation at a party, the Heathers banish Veronica from their little posse and she is marked as a victim of social suicide (“Dead Girl Walking” … sure to be a go-to shower song for angsty girls everywhere). Revenge quickly gets out of hand when accidental homicide starts turning into a series of planned endings. Serious topics like teen violence, sexual desire, suicide and eating disorders are addressed with biting dialogue, delightfully entertaining physical comedy (slow motion fighting sequence, an ode to blue balls), and memorable music numbers. The show is laugh-out-loud funny but also edge-of-your-seat suspenseful (especially if you haven’t seen the movie).

Veronica is a relatable protagonist because you really get why she tolerates hanging out with the Heathers. Being someone people want/respect in high school seems like the most important thing at the time even though years later you’ll realize it’s not. The Heathers are just as flawed as everyone else, except they have money and money means power. (“Candy Store” will be stuck in your head for days.) And JD… oh, JD with his Slurpees and black trench coat. He’s the mysterious new guy and if you aren’t drawn to his charm, well then you probably weren’t watching the same show I was. So when JD starts doing and saying things that are quite questionable, you don’t want to believe he’s really capable of going through with any of it. JD makes your heart race for a number of reasons throughout the show, but his “Meant to Be Yours” performance that is all kinds of intense and really drives the show toward its finale. Electric and scary moments like when Brown owns the stage during his aforementioned solo make seeing the show a necessity. The soundtrack is fun to listen to, but seeing the characters come alive through the music adds to the overall enjoyment of the experience.

Because that’s what Heathers the Musical is – it’s an experience. The costumes reminded me a bit of Cher and her friends from Clueless, but with bigger 80s hair and hair accessories. Because the main characters wear the same outfit for a majority of the show, it’s easier to focus on the lyrics and dialogue. The humor and horror is all there, but it’s all through words and actions rather than superfluous set or costume changes. The set is rather sparse and the props are minimal (but so effective), but you’re never wishing there were more things on stage because the actors do their jobs so well.

Heathers the Musical might be closing at New World Stages on August 4th, but it deserves to find legs elsewhere in the city so more people can lick it up, baby. Lick. It. Up.