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|November 20-26, 2008
Curious teenagers experiment at the Acoma Theatre
by Gary Zeidner
Young people are in a condition like permanent intoxication, because youth is sweet and they are growing.” So said Aristotle some 2,300 years ago, and it seems little has changed. Sure, when young Greeks stole off on a Friday night to make out in the shadow of the Acropolis, they didn’t have the benefits of picture phones on which to send each other titillating snapshots or to text about whose parents were off to Sparta for the weekend so “Party at Phaedra’s palace!” They didn’t have Apple Bottom jeans or six packs of Buff Gold. They didn’t have condoms or lube. But they did possess the same vigorous energy and generalized angst common to all teenagers, I’m certain.
If you’re like me and more than a few years have passed since you faced a day of classes, lunchrooms and peer pressure at one of America’s high schools, you may have forgotten just how tumultuous a time it was. Every day was a demented adventure, a heady combination of fear (of failure, of the future, of the unknown), desire (for acceptance, for love, for success) and passion (for life, for friends, for knowledge). Every setback was the end of the world, and every triumph tasted sweeter than honey-covered chocolate.
The highest praise I can offer Stephen Karam’s play, Speech & Debate, is that it perfectly reproduces the insanity of high school existence. If you’re hankering for a dose of modern teenage life, this is the show for you. It’s a two-plus hours (without intermission — odd choice) slice of frenetic, pubescent life that starts off fast and barely pauses for a breath. It toys with a few hot button issues, like homosexuality and abortion, but it is really a love letter to youth (which is no surprise considering the playwright is a mere pup himself).
Howie (Steven Burge), an openly gay recent transfer to the Salem, Ore. high school that plays host to Speech & Debate, starts the play off trolling for some action on the ol’ Internet. Little does he know that the older gentleman on the other end of the “series of tubes” that is the World Wide Web occupies a much closer position in Howie’s life than he could possibly imagine. The online exchange between Howie and the mystery man, acted on stage and simultaneously projected for the audience to see in native form, is completely hilarious and sets the tone for the rest of the performance.
While Howie is cruising cyberspace, demented drama queen, Diwata (Laura Jo Trexler), is eating up some bandwidth of her own as she pours her anguished soul out for anyone interested enough to listen. Diwata’s only aspiration is to become a professional actress, so of course, landing a role in the school play each year is her raison d’être. Unfortunately for her, the school’s drama teacher does not share Diwata’s opinion that she is some sort of pint-sized Meryl Streep and has relegated her to bit parts only.
Meanwhile, Solomon (Glen Moore, no relation to Roger, presumably), spends his days muckraking like a junior Upton Sinclair bent on exposing local politicos for the perverts they are. Playing Solomon like a Caucasian Bobby Lee from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Moore’s character seems so bent on unearthing dirt on everyone else that one wonders what skeletons hang in his own closet.
The confluence of Howie, Diwata and Solomon’s lives is Speech & Debate, and it is some seriously funny shit. Whether you were one of these three misfits in high school, knew one of them or even led some sort of completely disconnected, “normal” life, you will find many reasons to laugh out loud as the three come together and wrestle with the tapestry of issues that is their lives. All three actors give laudable performances, but Trexler, who stood out in a small role in Curious’ production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore earlier this year, blew me away. She is one talented actress, and her Diwata alone is worth the price of admission.
On the Bill:
Speech & Debate plays through Dec. 13 at the Acoma Theatre, 1080 Acoma St., Denver, 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org.
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