Friday, April 19, 2024

Life after heroin overdose: Father writes play “Inside Job” about losing a son

Ken Vest's play, "Inside Job," will premier at the Cape Fear Playhouse this weekend. (Port City Daily photo/ COURTESY KEN VEST)
Ken Vest’s play, “Inside Job,” will premier at the Cape Fear Playhouse this weekend. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY KEN VEST)

WILMINGTON — Jesse Vest passed away at the age of 21.

That was 2012, years before the heroin epidemic was a household topic or confronted by lawmakers or the general public.

“What happened to him was a couple years before it became an enormous crisis,” said Ken Vest, Jesse’s father. “It just wasn’t front page news.”

Years later, Vest began crafting a play to channel the perspective he had gained from losing a son.

“I want to communicate certain things through the art of theater,” he said.

Loosely based on his own life, “Inside Job” echoes the emotional process of life after a heroin death.

This weekend, “Inside Job” will premiere for the first time at the Cape Fear Playhouse.

It’s an inside job

“I learned so much more about this after my son died than I knew beforehand,” Vest said. “It’s the kind of thing I can’t help but think about.”

In processing his son’s death and later developing the play, Vest poured over the human elements of heroin addiction.

“It has an impact on the way we process information,” he said. “It’s a sickness, which means, to me — people that say, ‘Hey, get over it, just say no.’ — it’s not that easy. It affects the part of the brain that deals with motivation, reward and punishment so your judgment is clouded.”

Hence, the name “Inside Job.”

Recovery, and survival, “begins with the person with being motivated to make a change and make it stick,” Vest said.

Recovery Road

Battling heroin and opioid addiction is not a one-size-fits-all package.

“It’s a very personal thing — somebody who’s committed to treatment needs to find what works for them,” Vest said.

Vest doesn’t endorse any one method or approach to addiction recovery.

Whatever it is, “it has to be very personalized.”

Vest urges those in the inner or outer circle to research signs and treatment options immediately. For parents, significant others or colleagues with the slightest inkling that a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, there are simple signals to look out for.

“If you notice that your friend, your child is stealing money from you, if you notice there are things of value that are no longer there, anything that might indicate that they are getting cash to support their addiction,” Vest said. “Don’t take my word for it. Do your own research now.”

Grief and beyond

The play, in its visual and written application, is designed to leave viewers with a lasting impact.

“It does hit you in a more immediate way and, in many respects, in a more lasting way because you do see human beings in front of you,” Vest said. “I just think it plants something more immediate in your mind and heart.”

Centered around parents coping with the death of their young son, the critical tensions of “Inside Job” are opposing processes of grief.

The character Abby Mason, the mother, immediately responds to the death with grief. Her husband, Will Mason, cannot shake his initial desire to seek revenge and consume all the information he can find.

“Abby’s goals are to have her own grief, but (also) to persuade and beg him to join her in that grief,” Vest said. “Will’s goals are to find out who gave the drugs to his son and confront that person.”

Though not entirely biographical, Vest’s ultimate goal in interpreting his pain in an artistic manner is to provide a springboard for discussions in communities most impacted by the crisis.

He says the director, Steve Vernon, has added elements to the play that will cement its emotional impression on the audience.

“It’s my dialogue, but I don’t recognize it because my director has opened new ways, new visual ways to tell the story that are brilliant to me,” Vest said. “Steve has taken it to levels I never would have imagined.”

“I think that people who come see the play are going to be moved.”

Presented by Big Dawg Productions, “Inside Job” premieres at the Cape Fear Playhouse this weekend, Jan. 11 – 13 at 8 p.m.

“Inside Job” will run through January, with additional showings Jan. 18-20 at 8 p.m. and Jan. 14 and 21 at 3 p.m.

To purchase tickets, visit

For those struggling with opioid addiction, Vest suggests people get in touch with Coastal Horizons, a non-profit recovery health center.

Johanna Ferebee can be reached at or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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