A Play I Just Saw by Solstice Lauren and Its Many Messages

Karen Gross
4 min readJun 9, 2024


Artwork (digitized photograph of artist’s painting) by Karen Gross, Eclipse Series # 10 (2024)

I Saw Dead End

I just went to a theater festival in NYC, showcasing the juried plays of some 60 playwrights. The play I saw, Dead End, was written by Solstice Lauren, a 20 year old student at Vassar College and perhaps the youngest playwright to be selected for the festival. Dead End was performed three times at the Hudson Guild Theater. It’s a lovely spot for a play, although not so easy to find. That said, I am glad I both found the theater and saw the play.

Let me share why.

The one act play, with actors all hailing from Vassar College, is multi-layered. But, a key theme is that teenagers speak and feel volumes and yet, their parents seem habitually to be unable to hear and/or understand them. And, the consequences are drastic in that young people (at least many of them) want their parents to be able to grasp the struggles of youth, appreciate their voices and respect their effort to forge forward in a difficult world.

While the play circles around the topic of suicide, what was most gripping about the play for me was watching how this “understanding” gap between youth and their parents was manifested. As an educator, I have often seen this gap playing out in real time. And, I should add, that the gap does not necessarily disappear when one’s child(ren) reach adulthood. Bottom line: growing up is hard, made all the harder based on a host of individual, social, societal and familial factors.

The standard line used among child development experts is that our judgment does not fully mature within our brains until we are at least 27 (earlier for some perhaps and later for others). That’s why young people are prone to making mistakes and they struggle with mental health too. The soft-spoken secret is that if you can manage to keep youth safe until age 27 +/-, they are likely to make it. That said, suicides of youth abound.

Not a Dead End

There are abundant ironies in the play that are worth sharing.

First, while titled “Dead End” and yes, someone does die, the actual play doesn’t provide a dead end in any sense. Instead, play is forward focused, exploring pathways toward the future, at least as I perceived the arc of the story. It makes the audience question and assess all sort of relationships (horizontal and vertical), the majority of which can be improved. And, it leaves one ready, one hopes, to view relationships differently. That’s not a dead end. The play is, to use the word of statisticians, filled with open-ended, not closed-ended, questions.

Next, despite the ominous title and the constant references to “suicide” (including whether and why it happened), the play is filled with humor. I have often said that the use of humor does not mean one isn’t serious. Humor can be dead serious (words intended). Humor can provide a foil, a way of dealing with harsh realities. As long as one is aware of one’s humor and does not use it to hurt others, it has benefits.

And importantly, humor is healthy; laughing at oneself and one’s situation can be seen through different lenses, one of which is humor. And self-deprecating humor has a charm to it. And laughing has enormous power. If one can’t laugh, there is reason to worry about oneself (and others) who cannot find the absurdity and challenges of life to be worthy of a joke now and then. And within each joke is a kernel of truth, which is why we laugh, right?

Just think about some of the brilliant New Yorker cartoons.

These points are similar to those made by the playwright in the Director’s Note. As expressed there and I quote: “… please do not be afraid to laugh… the jokes are there for a reason. Let’s enjoy ourselves together. After all, that is the first step to bonding with those we feel we do not connect with easily.”


Lastly, Solstice’s play gives me hope. It enables me to see the power of youth, their potential, their values, their ability to navigate the years in front of them. And, this play and its author give me hope that we can find ways to express our deepest concerns with clarity, poignancy, sadness and yes, humor. Perhaps those of us who are older can learn those very lessons, even if we know that the next generation is, as this play proves, in thoughtful hands.



Karen Gross

Author, Educator, Artist & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor