Members of the Pittsburg High School Repertory Theatre Class have tackled social issues such as bullying and prescription drug abuse.

Members of the  Pittsburg High School Repertory Theatre Class have tackled social issues such as bullying and prescription drug abuse.
This  spring the class selected a theme that literally hits close to  home. Members collaborated with California playwright Debbie Lamedman to develop the original play “You Belong to Me,” dealing with teen dating violence.
A community performance is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with performances for area schools at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday. All performances will be in Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium, and all will be free.
“We did a survey of about 300 students, and a lot of them said that they had seen dating violence or been a part of it,” said cast member Emily Commons.
Greg Shaw, PHS theater teacher, said he believes the numbers reported in the PHS survey are probably low.
“According to what was reported in our survey, in a class of 20 you’d have two students who know of a violent dating situation, and the national statistics would put it at seven,” Shaw said.  “But this is in our hallway, it’s in everybody’s hallway.”
To help students develop a better understanding of the problem, Shaw also brought in Lindsey Moss from the counseling office to talk with students.
Shaw said that the play only had to  go through two drafts.
“It’s the second draft we’re using,” he said.
The play centers around Allison, played by Gracie Spencer, a quiet honor student who has never had a real boyfriend. Her girlfriends decide to fix her up with a date for the winter formal.
At first, things go well with David, played by Bryan Stebbins, but then he insists that she must give him her undivided attention, to the point of making her skip school to be with him. Allison’s friends suspect something is wrong, but don’t know what to do. Allison herself, inexperienced in dating relationships, isn’t sure at first that something is really, really wrong.
In between scenes with these two, there are views of other abusive relationships, including a monologue by Kevin McNay in which his character notes that he occasionally has to slap his girlfriend around a little “because somebody has to be in charge, and it’s going to be me. I’m jealous, but it shows how much I love her.”
Then there’s Emily Ebbs who portrays a female abuser, though her abuse is not physical. She’s dating a young man whose parents are much better off than her family, and humiliates him in front of his friends to force him to buy her expensive presents.
In a powerful scene, Mason Bayliss portrays a gay teen who visits a club and runs into an older man who forces him into a restroom stall to have sex.
“I told him I wasn’t ready, and he brought out some pills and said if I took one,  then I’d be ready,” the young man says. “I don’t do drugs and I don’t want to do drugs, and I didn’t want my first time to be in a bathroom stall.”
Shaw said that the show also incorporates a lot of video with statistics on dating violence, including the fact that girls and young women aged 16-24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.
Violent relationships can lead to higher risk of substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior and further domestic violence.
“I don’t think people realize the amount of destruction that occurs through abusive relationships, and I think this show portrays it well,” Stebbins said.
McNay noted that he previously played the title role in the  PHS production of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” about a crazed barber who slits throats in his barber chair.
“When I portrayed Sweeney Todd, I knew that nobody at PHS was a mass murderer,” he said. “But this character is not outside the realm of possibility at our school.”
The victims are also very real.
“No matter how strong you are, how much of a leader you are, anyone can become a victim of abuse,” Spencer said. “The character I play is very relatable.”
Others in the cast are Kylie Wilber, Jason McDonald, Randa Pitts, Betty Noonoo, Jacob Hall, Abbi Epperson, Derek Scholes, Ashley Hall, Ryan Crews and Sarah Colyer.
Erin O’Dell is stage manager, with Ty Muse as stage crew and Liza  Erwin doing props.
Shaw said there will talk-back sessions following the play, with representatives from local law enforcement, Safehouse and the Children’s Advocacy Center present to answer questions.