Except for the sound of muffled crying, the audience was quiet as Oak Park High School students depicted the sorrow of AIDS, made worse by the abandonment of friends and family.
During the performance--one segment in an hourlong "psychodrama" dealing with death and other emotional loss--the AIDS patient reacts to the loneliness of isolation with a plea for understanding.
"Look at me, I'm a person," says the character, portrayed by Oak Park sophomore Erin Rogers. "See me for who I am, not what this disease has made me to be."
Slowly, her friends return to her side, expressing and then disposing of the fears that made them run away unnecessarily.
One friend asks, "I want to help her, but is it OK if I touch her?"
Through the performance, about a dozen Oak Park High School students brought their roles as peer counselors to the stage.
The play provided a vehicle for the peer counselors to address loss, through death, divorce, relationship breakups or diminished self-esteem. In one segment, the actors use interpretive dance to express the loss of innocence to child abuse.
High school junior Sara Carmona, one of the dozen students who helped write the drama, said she wanted to ease loneliness after loss.
"I think I want people to know they're not alone in that everyone has losses," she said.
Audience reaction to the Tuesday night performance at Oak Hills Elementary School attended by about 250 parents and students revealed that the drama was successful in depicting the universal nature of loss and grieving.
"It was incredible," said junior Mita Padhi.
"It was exactly what I've been feeling," said junior Jennifer Nelson as she wiped away tears after the performance. "It hit the spot."
In the final skit, the students acted out the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"I am just in awe of their capacity to feel--to the depths they do and with the sensitivity they do--the emotions surrounding this topic," Wilkoff said.