Sam Donnell '18
This spring, the Jones Drama Department prepares to perform possibly its most controversial production yet: the musical adaptation of the 1989 film Heathers.
“It’s pretty much the ‘80s version of Mean Girls, but with murder and suicide and stuff like that, just much higher stakes,” said Jake Marre ‘18, who plays the male lead, Jason “JD” Dean.
Heathers, which centers around a killing spree in an Ohio high school, will show performances on April 18, 20, and 21.
“A lot of things in this show are very shocking, but I don’t think it will be for [the students],” said the musical’s director, Brad Lyons. “It’s relevant and you’ll relate to it and you can draw lessons from it. Some people complain that our shows are inappropriate for children. I just say ‘I didn’t do that show for children. I did it because I want it to be relevant for high school students. Parents and younger people and sensitive people are going to think it’s a bit harsh, but the students brought this [show] to my attention. I’d seen it and thought it was just too harsh to ever do in high school, but the kids loved it so much that it made me look at it again. It’s very violent, very dark, but it’s also very funny.”
What may be seen as shocking in the show today had a very different tone than when it was originally written according to Lyons.
“The movie came out ten years prior to [the Columbine high school shooting] when [school violence] wasn’t even thinkable,” said Lyons. “It was just this black comedy about high school life. It was just exploring, what if we could get rid of the mean girls and, how far [could] we go? Now it really hits a different chord, because this stuff does happen. Now we think of things like this as regular.”
Having addressed topics such as drugs, sex, and antisemitism in recent productions such as Fame and Cabaret, Lyons has experience in broaching difficult subjects with the audience.
“We advertise in advance [that shows are] PG-13 [with] strong language, violence, adult content,” said Lyons.“We’ll have a note from the director saying ‘this is what it is, but here’s why it’s important.’ We did Hair [in 2014] with drug use and all, but by telling people in advance what they’re coming into and that that is the realistic situation, for Hair, of that time period. If[the audience expects Cinderella but then gets blood and violence and gore, they’re upset, but if you warn them and explain that it isn’t for all viewers, then they’re very accepting.”
No stranger to controversy, Lyons isn’t afraid to spark a debate within the Jones community.
“It usually raises good conversation [when someone is upset by a show],” Lyons said. “I had a student who said she really didn’t like Cabaret because of the way it projected women. That opened up this great conversation and I explained that it was the [Great] Depression and women were very promiscuous, sleeping around, prostitution was big. I totally respect that people can say what they had a problem with and come away a better understanding of why we did what we did [in the production].”
Lyons hopes this musical will open up similarly constructive conversations about bullying and the way students treat each other.
“So here, dealing with all of the violence, hopefully we’ll open up conversations where people will be able to discuss why we take the mean route instead of the nice route to get ourselves ahead,” said Lyons. “Why is it easier to make fun of people and put them below us than to move forward without worrying about anybody else?”
While the plot of the musical can hardly be called lighthearted, students involved in the production believe a silver lining can be found despite the gore.
“I think people might take [the play] in the wrong way because there’s a lot of violence in schools today and that’s a main topic of the play, but I think there’s a deeper meaning to it,” said Maya Reyna ‘20, who plays Veronica Sawyer, the musical’s female lead.
Reyna hopes the violent content won’t keep the Jones community from enjoying the production.
“I see why people would not want to come see it,” Reyna said. “We aren’t trying to get across anything negative. Also, it’s just going to be really good to see all of the hard work we’ve put in. We have so many talented people in the cast. If anything, that should be a focus as well as the overall message.”
Despite earlier hesitation, Lyons is now confident in his choice of production.
“The message behind it all is from the heart about what we can learn from this violence,” said Lyons. “Nowadays, it is so relevant, trying to see what we can learn from this violence. Some people think it might be too relevant and we shouldn’t touch it, but there have been a lot of articles posted on why Heathers is such an important play today for high school students.”
Marre doesn’t see violence as the main theme of the show and stresses that viewers will be able to see themselves in the characters.
“The musical is really about all the things we deal with in high school,” said Marre. “Bullying is a big [theme] as well as mental health.”
High school bullying is especially prevalent in the symbols used throughout the musical.
“Croquet, the yard game, is a big metaphor in the show,” Lyons said. “You’ll see it a lot in posters; it was in the movie, but it’s a little harder to show on stage. In croquet, when you hit another player, you have a choice: you can move forward and advance yourself or you can hit the other person and knock them further away. It’s a huge metaphor for just how are we going to live our lives? Am I going to get forward by knocking the other person down or advance and not bother them at all?”