Speech & Debate

Playwright Stephen Karam’s quirky high school comedy imaginatively (and sometimes disturbingly) reinvents the witch-hunt of The Crucible through the teenage frame of The Breakfast Club, mixing in a touch of Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator.” In a small, claustrophobic Oregon town, sexually precocious teenager Howie (Michael Welch) engages in come-hither provocative cyberchat with a much older man, who turns out to be none other than his own drama teacher. Fiendishly ambitious high school newspaper reporter Solomon (Aaron Himelstein), driven by his own repressed sexuality, learns of Howie’s interactions and wants to make his story public in a huge exposé. Along with Diwata (Mae Whitman), a vengeful theater brat who has been passed up by the drama teacher for one too many acting roles, Solomon and Howie form an organization that to the rest of the world appears to be the school’s Speech and Debate club, but which, in fact, has a darker and more confrontational purpose. Although Karam’s writing occasionally slips on its own soap opera suds, the combination of artistry and a brash, youthful energy is unsettling enough to elicit a few squirms — exactly the kind you’d hope for in the theater. Director Daniel Henning’s psychologically shrewd direction drives the action while being engagingly intimate. Himselstein’s sweetly neurotic Solomon; Whitman’s shrill, driven Diwata; and Welch’s technologically sophisticated but emotionally naive gay boy are hilarious, touching and disturbing by turns.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Sept. 18. Continues through Nov. 16, 2008


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