By Molly Manhoff of Oakton High School
Four teenagers. One high school. All wading through the difficulties and struggles of mental illness as they desperately try to keep their heads above water. Freedom High School’s Perspective dove deep into how real high schoolers feel and deal with their mental health struggles, and who they go to when their subconscious gets to be too much. With vibrant characters and spectacular lighting, the cast and crew wove together a brilliant story of how everyone deserves a platform to speak, and everyone deserves to be listened to.
Whether it be Riley’s (Tyler Potock) anxiety over embarrassing himself in front of a pair of strangers, Kayla (Ava Canonica) dealing with an overbearingly, unrelentingly critical mother, or Quinn’s (Heather McLaughlin) strained relationship with therapy, the show was filled with interesting characters with struggles lingering just under the surface. Potock’s panic, revving up more as his friend Sam kept pressing, felt stunningly genuine and relatable. His dynamic with Sam (Molly Anthony) clicked immediately, just the right mix of understanding best friends and people who push just a little too hard. Canonica, vulnerable and hurting, tugged on heartstrings with her struggle to fend for herself against her mother’s (Abby Luck) biting–yet laced with saccharine sweetness–words. She was sweet and pained, the complete opposite of her first impression, and Luck’s scathing, passive-aggressive insults truly embodied the character of a toxic parent. Not to mention McLaughlin, whose intense posture, strained words, and imaginary scenarios perfectly encapsulated the anxiety of how scary therapy can be for some people; of how their mental health and inner thoughts filled them with doubt and inadequacy.
Of course, cast alone isn’t what makes a production. The tech team did a phenomenal job. From the lighting to the set to the script, everything was chosen with tuned attention to detail and story. The lighting, headed by Claire Nguyen, was professional and character focused. The spotlights and transitions were right on beat with the scenes, focusing on the characters and their inner conflicts, not to mention creating so much dimension within the minimal set. Not to say that the set and props were lacking by any means. Together, Sarah Rossman and Cami DiVenere designed the various rooms and halls where the story took place. From Quinn’s bed to Dr. Clarke’s office, everything was picked perfectly to establish the scene without drawing the eye away from the actors. The script, written entirely by students (Allison Fountaine, Maeleigh Moore, Molly Anthony, and Lilly Christenbury), truly drew on the high school experience. Coming right from the source, the writers made sure every
character had their own unique perspective and experience, rather than the one-note, flat storylines that tend to come from people outside of high school.
With vivid, dimensional characters and a spectacularly detail-oriented tech crew, Perspective by Freedom High School was a brilliant showcase and deep dive into high schoolers’ minds and mental health. Vulnerable and heartfelt, they truly found their own voices up on stage.
[This review of the May 22 performance Freedom High School is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]