Theatre Review: “Speech and Debate”
Stephen Karam’s “Speech and Debate,” directed by Deejay Gray for TheatreLAB at Richmond Triangle Players, highlights the odd ways groups of friends can sometimes come together.
Blogger/actress Diwata, played by the supremely talented, fresh-faced Kelsey Cordrey, has it out for her high school drama teacher, Mr. Healy. She believes he does not recognize her unique talent. In order to get back at him, Diwata makes a post on her blog alluding to the fact that Mr. Healy may be hiding something and provides his email address for her fans to flood with their praises of her.
Her post is quickly answered by new student Howie, played by Zach Barnard, who inadvertently leaves his contact information open to public view on Diwata’s blog. Howie is subsequently contacted by wannabe reporter Solomon, played by Marquis Hazelwood, who grills Howie about his cryptic comment. Through Solomon’s investigating the three realize they are all connected by a sex scandal at the high school and bond while participating in the school’s speech and debate team, run and organized by Diwata.
Karam’s writing is so witty and dynamic that the first act just flies by, in fact the whole play kind of does. I could have spent way more time watching what develops between the eccentric trio.
Karam creates a delightfully honest portrayal of three teens trying to navigate their individual trials and tribulations, while still trying to blackmail each other.
There are some wonderfully fantastical moments in the story which are absolutely hilarious, a musical number with a young Abe Lincoln and Mary Warren from “The Crucible” anyone? Yet for all its triumphs, I will admit I felt a bit unfulfilled by the end as I don’t think Karam ever fully resolves the issues for all of his characters.
Cordrey, Hazelwood and Barnard’s performances are comedically strong and touching. Guest artist Katrinah Carol Lewis adds lightness and sophistication to the production playing all of the supporting “adult” roles of teacher, reporter, etc. Cordrey has a knack for comedic timing, delivering each of her lines with purpose and precision.
Hazelwood gives a very strong performance as the nerdy Solomon capturing the vulnerability of his character. Barnard is fabulous as the “out and proud” Howie, who supposedly came out to his parents at age 9. His delivery of each snarky quip is a perfect match for Cordrey.
Each of Karam’s characters is a bit of a stereotype, but with Gray’s direction, the cast is able to fall into their roles effortlessly, making them extremely likeable. Gray’s direction and staging is brilliant creating a production that is fast paced and visually exciting.
Making use of the “Bare: A Pop Opera” set, currently running at RTP, TheatreLAB adds some exciting and creative elements to the stage that evoke the feeling of being in a high school classroom (fluorescent lights and all!). Each scene is transitioned with a projection on a screen above the stage; where pictures and online conversations from the character’s laptop’s are also projected throughout the show. Maggie McGrann’s costume design reflects each character’s personality superbly and adds realness to each scene.
“Speech and Debate” is playing at Richmond Triangle Players through August 19th.
www.speechanddebate.brownpapertickets.com for tickets
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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