The only thing that’s really wrong with Steven Karam‘s new play, Speech & Debate, is that you might wish it would continue for another scene or two. Not because the story isn’t wrapped up but because it would be nice to spend little more time with the characters that he’s given us.
The play, set in Salem, Oregon, is about three teenagers – Diwata, Howie and Solomon – who set out to expose their high school drama teacher who has been secretly playing around with teen boys. Diwata is a wannabe actress and vlogger, Solomon is a reporter for the school paper and Howie, who is one of the boys approached by the teacher, is new to the school.
They each want something from the other; a Gay and Lesbian Alliance for Howie, a Speech & Debate club for Diwata and a newspaper article naming Howie as one of the teen boys for Solomon. As they each try and figure out the best way to come forward with the information, they discover each other’s secrets (some deep, others not so) while slowly forming a friendship.
And to add to their bond, they also perform a (hilarious) musical number that has a time-traveling Abraham Lincoln visit’s Mary Warren from Arthur Miller’s classic, The Crucible.
It’s funny, dark, incredibly timely and relevant, as it uses social media as a backdrop to everything. Diwata, Solomon and Howie are so rich and vivid that they practically jump off the page and you’ll definitely recognize something about yourself in each one of these teenagers. You yourself might not be the same sexuality, ethnicity or sex but the universal experience of wanting to be liked, finding your place among peers or wanting to be part of something is something that is universally understood.
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