Who doesn’t keep secrets? The sardonic play Speech and Debate centers around them, the people that keep them, and the people that try dig them up. It mocks the societal ideal of “a perfect life” and acknowledges that everyone has a couple of skeletons in the closet which they would prefer to keep concealed. This is what I believe Stephan Karam, the writer of Speech and Debate, meant to convey in this humorous, unabashed, uncensored, and temporally relevant drama.
The play takes place in the conservative city of Salem, Oregon. It focuses around three young teenagers and their connection to a teacher named Mr. Heeley. Howard, a homosexual adolescent has had online chats with this Mr. Heeley, not knowing that Heeley was the face behind the screen name BiGuy. Solomon, a mostly solitary kid who aspires to be a reporter, is bent on uncovering a political sex scandal and writing it up in the school newspaper. Duwada, a girl with unwavering dreams of performing in theatrical productions is bitter towards Mr. Heeley because of his insistence of not letting her perform in a lead role, which she believes adamantly she deserves. They all become caught up in a web of mystery surrounding Mr. Heeley and rumors that he has sexual relations with young men, under the facade of a speech and debate team.
They wish to be taken seriously and talk about important albeit controversial topics, which the adults in their town shy away from. Through their contact with each other, they end up revealing their most potent, private and provocative corners of their lives. They are hesitant to open up at first, but they certainly learn how much better it is to unveil the truth instead of letting it fester inside, slowly poisoning your being. Speech and Debate certainly does not try to skirt hotly contested issues present in America today, but rather tackles them head on, which lends a tangible realism to which the audience can undoubtedly relate.
In spite of the weighty issues and very colorful language in the production, it is a good time, filled with many witty asides as well as a thread of allusion to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Featuring superb acting and masterful direction by Ryann Greenberg, it does not disappoint those who enjoy a good round of debate about critical topics in today’s world. It runs at the Wittenberg Student Theatre at the Art Museum from March 30-April 1, at 7:30 p.m. on the first two nights (Friday and Saturday), and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be obtained at the Student Theatre one hour prior to the performances.
(Steven La Count / firstname.lastname@example.org)