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Life-and-death drama captures New Ken-Arnold students' attention

Chuck Biedka
| Tuesday, April 19, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Saltworks Theatre Company cast members (from left) Paige Moody, Andy Hickly, Kevin Moore, Karter Schachner and Rachel Smith perform a scene from their anti-drug play, 'Off-Script,' at Valley High School in New Kensington on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Saltworks Theatre Company cast members (from left) Paige Moody, Andy Hickly, Kevin Moore, Karter Schachner and Rachel Smith perform a scene from their anti-drug play, 'Off-Script,' at Valley High School in New Kensington on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Andy Hickly plays a genie who gets Rachel Smith addicted to prescription pain pills in one act of the play 'Off-Script' at Valley High School in New Kensington on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Andy Hickly plays a genie who gets Rachel Smith addicted to prescription pain pills in one act of the play 'Off-Script' at Valley High School in New Kensington on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Valley Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders watch the Saltworks Theatre Company from Pittsburgh perform their anti-drug play, 'Off-Script,' at their New Kensington school on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.
Eric Felack | Tribune-Review
Valley Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders watch the Saltworks Theatre Company from Pittsburgh perform their anti-drug play, 'Off-Script,' at their New Kensington school on Tuesday, April 19, 2016.

Chit-chatting New Kensington and Arnold students suddenly became silent Tuesday during an anti-drug drama.

The Drug Enforcement Administration-sponsored play uses the talents of professional actors to tell stories of life-and-death choices. The “students” have life challenges very much like those younger students encounter: how to fit in, succeed and find friends.

Some can resist trying drugs and alcohol; many can't. Some survive to undergo rehabilitation; some don't.

Just as in real life, not all of the “Off-Script” students survive.

The 45-minute play was presented to hundreds of Valley Middle and Valley High School students by actors from Pittsburgh's Saltworks Theatre Company.

The DEA paid Saltworks $1,000 for two Valley High performances — all part of DEA's 360 Strategy to fight painkiller and heroin abuse in Western Pennsylvania.

“Justin” is a popular student-athlete until a game injury leads him to misusing painkillers, deceiving himself that drugs help him to beat insecurities about dealing with girls. He slips into addiction.

“Jessica” is a student who turns to pills to quash nerves and the need to succeed. She instead loses herself.

Justin and Jessica eventually make it through drug treatment and long rehab, and they have to shun former friend/dealer “David.” Their one-time friend laments that he sold pills to his best friend, and the boy died.

At the play's end, the actors reel in the audience with a tale that uses actors as parts of a man's body — from brain and eyes to heart and liver. The “liver” tries to deal with painkillers washed down with half a bottle of vodka.

Witty lines tell of sudden organ failure until the end the “brain” falsely insists he knows what he's doing.

Then the “heart” stops beating.

DEA Special Agent Patrick J. Trainor said the play is being offered to try to prevent drug use.

“If we stood up and gave the students statistics,” he said, “no one would have listened.”

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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