Jordan Goodson, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology reviews “Meet Me in the Stars” performed by Manassas Park High School as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

Before reaching adulthood, twenty percent of teenagers suffer depression; fourteen percent self-harm. Eight percent attempt suicide. Statistics like these often incite discussions among adults, who ask: “Why? How? What can I do?” However, the most important voices on this topic are also the most silent: the voices of teenagers themselves. But in the auditorium of Manassas Park High School, teenagers are given a chance to speak, a chance to be heard, in the school’s emotional production of “Meet Me in the Stars.”

“Meet Me in the Stars” is an original play written and directed by Manassas Park student,  Lane Peyton. Touching upon many tragic subjects, including self-harm, homophobia, cancer, and death, “Meet Me in the Stars” follows high-schooler Rion as he moves to a new town and meets a group of friends, each with their own struggles and hardships. He tries to help his fellow teens by getting them to open up about their issues, and every week they go to a hill, look up at the stars, and hope for things to get better. However, tragedy strikes the group when one of its members, unwillingly involved in a gang, shoots and kills another member’s mother. As the story unfolds, secrets are revealed, confessions are made, tears are shed, and the full spectrum of human emotion is experienced.

The show was comprised of an ensemble cast, but several actors stood out from the rest. One such actor was Kim Kasik, who portrayed Erica, an adolescent who witnessed a murder as a child and cannot let go of her past, a tendency which manifests itself in a stuffed dog that she brings everywhere. While some actors in the show often overplayed emotions, Kasik was right on the mark, depicting sorrow, fear, and guilt with a haunted countenance and subdued body language. Also prominent was Cheyenne Patane as Diana, a girl who lost her sight due to diabetes. Portraying a blind person is no easy task, but Patane took to it with aplomb.  She also managed to cut through the sometimes overwhelming tension with barbs of well-timed sardonic humor.

The production's technical elements added to its stark, bare feel.  The set was minimalist, with a few versatile pieces used to suggest various settings. However, each teenager’s room retained little details specific to its occupant, an aspect which added a layer of honesty and complexity to the set. The scene changes, though numerous, were brief, and the lighting was simple and unobtrusive.

It is incredibly impressive that a show as powerful and weighty as “Meet Me in the Stars” was written and directed by a student. Peyton did an admirable job handling so many difficult issues, giving a voice to the very demographic most affected by them. At times the emotions projected were so visceral and raw that it was impossible as an audience member not to be shaken by them. As John Green wrote, “That’s the thing about pain… it demands to be felt.” Never was that statement more true than at Manassas Park High School’s “Meet Me in the Stars.” But the show ends with a message of hope, one that sticks with the audience long after the curtain closes.