What if a group of students performed a play specifically targeted for parents and no moms and dads showed up?
It wasn’t quite that bad, but less than a dozen parents of the school’s 1,400 students turned out for a play last week on the consequences of drinking and driving.
Ten students at Potomac Falls High School wrote, produced and performed "There is No Turning Back – Teen to Teen," first as a reminder to their peers about the danger of alcohol. They presented their work during school assemblies last week. The actors/playwrights revised it, targeting their message toward parents, and put on another performance Tuesday night.
The actors, however, failed to reach most of their targeted audience. The nearly-empty auditorium contained about 10 parents and a handful of students.
But as the saying goes, "The show must go on."
Undeterred, the students performed the play, which was timed with prom season. Ronn Lonon first took the stage, providing the details of his brother’s death at the hand of a drunken driver.
Ronn Lonon’s love for his brother, Eugene Lonon, was visible as he recalled their formative years and showed pictures of his sibling throughout their lives. Eugene Lonon was a police detective in Washington D.C.
Ronn Lonon said the drunken driver, who had been arrested for DUI four months before this crash, suffered a bloody nose and was sitting on the side of the road. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
"His kid will have a daddy. My nieces and nephews won’t," Ronn Lonon said. "Try to keep your children away from alcohol. If they must drink, then try to monitor it.
THE PLAY STARTED out with the realistic sounds of an emergency dispatcher discussing a crash that resulted in five deaths. The voices sounded as if they had been recorded at an authentic emergency center. The dispatcher said bodies were all over the road.
The stage was dark and then the spotlight shown on an unconscious teenager, Joe. His parents stood next to his hospital bed while two deputy sheriffs questioned them. Jessie Minshall, who played a deputy sheriff, asked the mother if her son had a history of alcohol abuse. She didn’t know. Minshall asked whether they knew where he could have gotten the alcohol. They said they keep liquor at home.
Everyone then exited the stage, except for the teenager. Suddenly, he was surrounded by the ghosts of people that were killed in the crash. One victim said, "You were drinking, but this time it was different. You killed me. You killed them. You killed us all."
One of his best friends, Brittany, played by Ashley Chrisman, told Joe that she loved him like a brother and asked why he had he been so selfish.
Expressing remorse, Joe said he thought he had his drinking under control. He said it was his problem, not anyone else’s. Brittany, however, shouted, "Do you understand? I’m dead!"
"I never meant to hurt you," he said.
Then the victims talked about all they were going to miss — soccer games, dates, the beach, shopping, freshly brewed coffee, football and more.
One victim said, "I’ll never go to Europe. I’ll never meet the love of my life."
She said the greatest sorrow was that she wouldn’t ever have the chance to say, "Goodbye."
Another friend, Stevie, showed up. He told Joe that things were only going to get worse when he came out of his coma.
AFTER THE PERFORMANCE, Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman said everyone got to step off the stage and go home once the play was over. "Unfortunately, this is very real," he said.
He gave parents guidelines to help them keep their children from ending up in an alcohol-related crash. He said prevention should start at home. "It starts by knowing your child as best as you can, actually getting to know his friends."
Drunk drivers usually are not hardened criminals, he said. They are good people who find themselves a situation they did not expect to be in. A judge might be lenient on some first-time offenders, but not when it comes to this crime, he said.
"Once you have caused a death or maimed or hurt someone, the court shifts …. It’s not about you anymore or about rehabilitation it tends to be about punishment."
He said the driver could have a clean record. "It doesn’t matter whether you made straight As or you were an Eagle Scout. … When you do something like this, all bets are off."
Plowman asked how many times have anyone heard someone say that they were "fine to drive?" "We all have heard words to that effect come out of someone’s mouth at one time or another," he said. "If those words were actually true, I don’t think we would be seeing what we are seeing."
He referred to the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) cases in the Loudoun County court system. He detailed the jail term and fines that come with a drunken driving conviction.
He recommended that parents enter into a contract with their children, with the teens promising to call if they drink too much or they don’t have a safe ride home from a party. "No questions asked," he said.
TOM KOENIG, president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO), said last year’s Student Council president, Will Powers, approached the PTSO and said the school had a problem. "That’s what started the whole thing," he said.
Assistant Principal Janice Koslowski said the students wanted to use a venue that would have a significant impact. They thought it would be more effective coming from the students than from the administration, she said. "In the beginning, they were hesitant how the student body would react," she said. "It had the same impact we thought it would."
Dave Nelson, a senior who played Mr. Tohms, said he believed the performance had a positive impact on some students.
Richie Pepio, a senior who played the deliveryman, said it was important to put on the show. "We represent the Drama Department and we’re trying to show good morals," he said.
Nelson agreed. "It’s a big issue. It’s a big problem. It’s important for people to hear it from people their own age."
Students will write another play next year, Koslowski said. "It will be a challenge. It has to be new and it has to be original. But we’ll do it."
The Cast & Crew
Characters: Jessica Minshall as deputy sheriff, Angela Allison as Dr. Brown, Bridgette Woods as Mrs. Tohms, David Nelson as Mr. Tohms, Sean Russamano as Joe, Stefan Gural as Mike, Richie Pepio as deliveryman, Barbara Pearson as Shannon, Ashley Chrisman as Brittany, and Shawn Eastridge as Stevie.
Technicians: Dan Pruden, Nick Wells, Lacey Hancher.