Mental image

"Mental" will be performed Saturday and Sunday at Towle Theater in Hammond.


Isabel Zuniga, writer of the youth drama “Mental,” hopes theatergoers of all ages leave aware of the hurdles many of today’s teens are facing.

“A lot of people are not talking about issues such as mental illness and teen suicide, and it’s incredibly important that we start talking about it,” she said. “I want people to leave being more open and more aware and understand what’s going on with people that they may know and care about.”

Making its debut with an April 1 through 3 run at Hammond’s Towle Theater, “Mental” follows the lives of two youngsters, Joanna and Warren, over the course of a 10-year span. Joanna is afflicted with depression, while Warren battles obsessive compulsive disorder.

A senior at Munster High School who has been active with Towle for a year and a half, Zuniga came up with the idea for “Mental” last summer while taking writing programs at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.

“There is an increase in suicides and mental illness, especially in teens,” Zuniga said. “I think it’s incredibly important that we open up a dialogue about this issue.”

“Mental” is Zuniga’s first production to be staged at Towle. The play is part of the Towle Youth Theater Ensemble.

Zuniga admitted to being awestruck watching her script come to life courtesy of the dozen “Mental” cast members.

“It’s such a surreal experience and it’s been an interesting process,” she said. “In some of the cases, it’s exactly how I thought it would come across in my mind, and sometimes I see these amazing possibilities open up onstage in front of me. It’s nothing like I ever imagined. I’m really excited.”

Dan Brennan is serving as director for Zuniga’s “Mental.”

“Isabel’s writing is very genuine,” he said. “Her conversations sound like real conversations. The teenagers sound like actual teenagers in the way that Isabel had written.”

Zuniga plans to continue writing and further her writing education at Marlboro University in Vermont after graduation this spring.

Due to mature subject matter and language, “Mental” is not recommended for very young attendees: Towle has given the play a PG-13 rating.

Towle Theater’s next production, the musical “First Date,” is scheduled to open April 22.

FYI: “Mental” runs at 8 p.m. April 1 and 2 and 2 p.m. April 3 at Towle Theater, 5205 Hohman Ave., Hammond. Tickets are $10. Call (219) 937-8780 or visit TOWLETHEATER.ORG

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