Roselle Higgins shares her family story. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Roselle Higgins shares her family story. (Photo by Cheryl Senter.)

Community happens when it’s safe to talk about the hard things

The New Hampshire Theatre Project's “Elephant in the Room” series uses theatre to bring people together to talk about immensely difficult things — suicide, eating disorders, substance misuse — and connect people with resources available to help

Low-hanging clouds are lifting from the Mount Washington Valley as the stage lights come up in Gorham’s Medallion Opera House.

Eight actors from the New Hampshire Theatre Project take the stage. They are portraying a family dealing with the ravages of the opioid crisis. The script is raw, visceral, provocative — as the fictional family navigates the grief, rage, shame, guilt, confusion and love that so many real New Hampshire families grapple with in isolation. For many in the audience, the details hit very close to home.

The “Elephant in the Room” series uses theatre to bring people together to talk about immensely difficult things — suicide, eating disorders, substance misuse — and connect people with resources available to help.

After the performance, a moderator leads a panel discussion with counselors and public health experts. When someone loses a child in a fire or an accident, panelist Erick Becker points out, the community turns out with casseroles and support. “Everyone fills the freezer.”

Too often, when a child is lost to an overdose, people retreat. No one knows what to say. The freezer stands empty.

Roselle Higgins raises her hand. She is raising her twin grandchildren. This play is her first outing since her daughter died from an overdose a year ago. She tells her story through choking sobs; by the time she finishes, most people in the theatre are crying with her. This grieving mother is surrounded, and wrapped in embraces.