In Stephen Karam's comedic coming-of-age drama Speech & Debate, a trio of high-school misfits are brought together by a dark secret, but find a bond in their own respective isolation amid the halls of their school.
Newcomer Gadfly Theatre produces a sharp, lively production that smooths
over some rough spots with eager and infectious energy. Our characters
are Diwata, Solomon, and Howe, who know that the drama teacher
is making a play for the teenage boys in the school.
Their knowledge is linked to secrets they'd rather keep. Much of the action centers on them at first trying to use the knowledge to get what they are looking for, before slowly building an alliance amid their shared isolation as they make plans for a grand revelation as the school's new speech and debate team.
The production is Spartan, and at times the pace feels off as the actors -- especially Mac Rasmus as seriously closeted Solomon -- find their bearings in the production. It doesn't help that Karam's script often keeps them separated by phone calls or chat-room logs
Once they are all in the same place at the same time, the trio -- including Seth Gabriel as out newcomer Howie and a terrific Dana Lee Thompson as aspiring playwright/composer Diwata -- find both the comedy and heart of the piece. As the only "adult" in the piece, Charla Marie-Bailey takes on dual roles, not really connecting as a teacher who wants to avoid controversy at every turn, but does much better as a reporter with multiple agendas.