“Speech & Debate” Drawing Young People to Hartford’s TheaterWorks

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

An encouraging sign at a recent performance of TheaterWorks’ “Speech & Debate” by Stephen Karam were the many young people in the audience.  That bodes well for the future of theater.

“Speech & Debate” focuses on teenage angst about being obese, shy, outrageous or just different – straight or gay. It should hit home for any young person trying to find his or her personal identity.  And help concerned adults to better understand teenagers.
The story is about hooking up on the web, sex scandal, gay kids making dates online with older closeted men, blackmail, being outed, and other coming-of-age challenges. The formation of a Speech & Debate Club, as well as organizing a Gay/Straight Alliance, delivers plausible tension and conflict to ignite this play about today’s IT world.

Eva Kaminsky, in a dual role as both teacher and reporter, gives a solid performance; Carl Holder a delivers a crowd-pleasing turn as gay Howie, Jee Young Han makes a memorable debut as diva-wannabee Diwata, and Ben Diskant is perfect as the nerdy school reporter Solomon. Director Henry Wishcamper should do some script tightening, work on the occasional over-projecting by the actors and smooth out some blocking - stage waits.
The story gets blurred because there are too many rambling ideas being explored and the repetition of words (‘freak’) and themes (“The Crucible”) don’t really help make a well-structured play.

The play’s final moment, cleverly displayed as a Web site chat room, is a cry for help from a sixteen-year-old. If either Howie or Diwata had replied, which would have been in character for them, the play’s resolution would have ended with a hopeful rather than a depressing ‘nobody cares’ note.   

This comedy for all age groups, like its high school characters, is still trying to find its way.
“Speech & Debate” plays through July 26 at TheaterWorks at City Arts On Pearl, 223 Pearl Street in downtown Hartford.  Discounts for college students and free seats at selected performances for high school students. For individual tickets and subscriptions (five plays $123!) call (860) 527-7838 or www.theaterworkshartford.org

© 2009.  Critics On The Aisle. All Rights Reserved. 
Published in Metroline News Magazine


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