2nd Story Theatre's summer season blasts off with "Speech & Debate" by Stephen Karam. The play is a dark comedy with music and concerns three misfit teenagers in Salem, Oregon who discover they are linked together by a sex scandal that's rocked their town. When one of them sets out to expose the truth, secrets become currency, the stakes get higher, and the trio's connection grows deeper in this searching, fiercely funny show. Would be drama star Diwata posts a video blog implying she knows something about the scandal. Howie leaves his phone number on her site, insinuating he knows something more, and Solomon contacts them to get the scoop for the school newspaper. The staging is set on a proscenium stage and has a multimedia component, a 8 by 12 foot computer monitor that flashes Diwata's blog and the Internet chats with Mr. Healy, the sleazy drama teacher whom the audience never meets. Add another performer playing a teacher/reporter and you have the makings for this thought provoking piece of theatre. Director Ed Shea picks topnotch performers to fill these roles and they garner a spontaneous standing ovation on their acting prowess at the close of the show.
Ed obtains stellar performances from his actors. He infuses them with high energy, keeping the audience enthralled at their acting prowess.Although the show is a comedy, it has a serious side to it, as it deals with closely kept secrets and looks at the hypocrisy of the world, not to mention the hot-button issues of sexual orientation and abuse of the Internet. Each of the kids sees adult hypocrisy in different ways, Solomon wants to expose it, Diwata to exploit it and Howie to live with it peacefully and maybe get laid by some hot older dude. There is also a ripped from the headline incident in the play about an anti-gay mayor who gets busted for cruising the Internet for male teens. Diwata who is obsessed with musicals forms a debate club as a front for her boundless theatrical ambitions and is about their attempts to expose a drama teacher who preys on teen boys. Valerie Westgate is terrific as Diwata. The girl wants to put on her own shows and is working on a musical inspired by The Crucible in which a time traveling Mary Warren, who admits to being a witch in Miller's play, meets a gay Abe Lincoln and admonishes him in a song called "Hold It In". She is a strong comedic actress and makes all her funny lines hit paydirt. Valerie also has funny lines about Mary Rodgers and "Once Upon a Mattress", singing a funeral lament on her blog. Andrew Iacovelli is marvelous as Solomon. He captures the quirkiness of the character, playing a dogged reporter type, winning much laughter along the way. One of his best moments comes when a stunning secret is revealed in the second act and this outstanding scene shows Andrew's strong dramatic skills, leaving the audience astonished at its powerful impact. I previously review him as the apprentice dentist in "The Good Doctor" in March where he showed his comic prowess and was hilarious. He also filmed a video segment called "We Are Not What You Think We Are". Alex Duckworth is the musical director for the show and he has a cameo in this video. Johnny Sederquist is splendid as Howie who is gay. He has many funny moments in the show and a funny story about creating a dance for the boy scouts, coming out of the closet at 9 years old and a funny scene at the restaurant with Valerie that turns poignant when a secret she is hiding is revealed. Johnny recently graduated from URI and excels in drama, comedy and musicals, having reviewed him many times as a student.They perform a striptease to George Michael's "Freedom" in the second act. Emily Lewis rounds out the cast as Teacher/reporter, doing a wonderful job in the show. She is a supposedly liberal teacher with strong censorship as well as an arts reporter, a condescending, self important NPR type. So for a fantastic contemporary show, be sure to catch "Speech & Debate" at 2nd Story Theatre. This high energy show will have you cheering in the aisles at its artistic delivery.