Kevin O’Leary, left, director of Morse High School’s one-act play, addresses the cast and crew during a rehearsal of student-written “My Best Support Friend.” Morse High School will compete at Camden Hills Regional High School on March 6 at 8 p.m. Photo courtesy of Kevin O’Leary

BATH — With this year’s Maine Principals Association One-Act Festival approaching, the 46 cast and crew members of Morse High School’s play agreed the 40-minute show is packed with lessons about finding those who support you.

The show, “My Best Support Friend,” written by senior John Russell, is based on Russell’s life. While certain dreams and whimsical elements in the play aren’t based in reality, the pain and hardship of having a disability and growing up in a world that didn’t accept him are.

Much like the main character, Tyson, Russell has cerebral-palsy and was born in China, but was adopted by an American family. The play tells the story of his journey to find acceptance and when he felt most abandoned and how he reacts when the father that abandoned him reappears in his life.

To help him tell his story, Russell created three characters who are personified versions of the things that support him: a wheelchair, a walker and a crutch.

Sophomore Ariel McDonough, who plays Cassidy the Crutch, said Russell created a world everyone can relate to in some way.

“I really connect with Tyson,” said McDonough. “I understand what it’s like to struggle and not have enough support, but watching this play you realize, ‘Oh, there is enough support out there for everyone but it’s about finding the people who can support you.’”

Kevin O’Leary, director and English teacher at Morse High School, said the show is about reminding the audience, and ourselves, that asking for help doesn’t make someone weak and having a disability doesn’t make someone lesser than anyone else, but the hardest part is often asking for help.

“We are all God’s children, all of us, and we all belong and we all contribute, and we all are needed, loved and wanted,” said O’Leary. “In 2020, we need bridges to bring us closer to one another, not walls to keep us from one another.”

“My Best Support Friend” is the 19th student-written play Morse is bringing to the annual one-act competition.

“For us, student empowerment is the entire program at Morse,” said O’Leary. “These kids believe in one another, believe in the program and absolutely believe in and stand by their playwright in residence.”

While the students have confidence in Russell’s play, this is the first play he has ever written. He said he wrote it “just because I was curious,” but added he wants to write more plays in the future.

Russell has a few lines in his play as well, which McDonough said marks progression from last year when he didn’t have any.

“Last year Mr. O’Leary begged John Russell to be in the play,” said McDonough. “He showed up to every rehearsal and was awesome, so he asked Mr. O’Leary if he could have a line. He didn’t get one, but the next year, here we are. He wrote the entire play.”

“I would feel bad if I didn’t say yes to Mr. O’Leary,” said Russell. “Mr. O’Leary is all about love.”

Other students agreed with Russell and expressed how thankful they are for O’Leary’s encouragement and support, both in class and in the theater. O’Leary said the same about his students, all of whom he said he’s proud of, especially Russell.

“John Russell is a hero to me,” said O’Leary. “I am a better human being for knowing him and having him in my life.”

The Maine Drama One-Act Festival regionals are March 6 and 7, 2020. Over 70 schools will compete at various locations across the state.

Morse High School will compete at Camden Hills Regional High School on March 6 at 8:00 p.m. Winners of the regional festivals will proceed to the State Drama Festival on March 20 and 21, 2020.

The cast will also perform “My Best Support Friend” during Morse’s Fine Arts Night on Wednesday, March 4 at 7:45 p.m.

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