No Debate Over This Right Of Speech
Society has found itself at a crossroads like never before. The world we know has expanded from our daily communications face to face into a 24/7 365 media spectacular that takes place not only face to face but phone to phone, screen to screen and beyond. The world is changing and technology has played a huge role in that. As the world has changed before our very own eyes, so has our communication. In a world never before connected so much, we have never found ourselves more disconnected. Speech and Debate is a play that not only tackles these issues but relates them to our daily lives. The play reminds us that while we all think we may be immortal from our online world actions, these actions have real world consequences. Presented through Wagner College’s Completely Student Productions, this is your time to speak and debate. Speech and Debate will not only leave you wondering just how far we can go online before we crash but will thrust our current world so far into the spotlight on stage, we can’t help but stare.
Speech and Debate is a play by Stephen Karam that follows the lives of three teenagers in Salem, Oregon. The three teens, who all attend the same high school, will find themselves grouped together for reasons than they even see at their very first hangout. The name of the play comes from the Speech and Debate club they form together which not only serves as an after school activity for the teens but an outlet for expressing themselves in the modern world closing in around them. Filled with controversy, sex scandals and secrets that no one can keep from one another, Speech and Debate is a modern play that presents the real life danger of life online behavior resulting in real life consequences. Speech and Debate is directed by Brendan Stackhouse.
Speech and Debate is one of my absolute favorite pieces of modern drama. The production captures the idea of the complacent world we have grown to surround ourselves in while stating the obvious facts; we have lost our sense of not only speaking up for what is right but debating others when we know what they have done is wrong. Stackhouse’s production not only embodies this message but preaches the foundation of love and acceptance which this piece hopes to bring to an audience. Those pillars are made clear from the very beginning and carry strongly throughout this entire production. Stackhouse has made bold, clear-cut choices in presenting this piece on a theatrical level but has not lost the sense of connection to his audience. All of the characters we experience in this show, we experience in our every day lives. Stackhouse not only reminds us of that with the choices he makes through the characters but brings it to us having us feeling for their pain and rejoicing in their success.
Jesse McCaig stars a Howie in the production, a teenage who finds himself in more than he planned for after a simple online conversation goes much further than he planned. McCaig shines in the role of Howie and is the production’s driving force through the choices he makes which help tell story as the piece progress. He proves consistently strong not only questioning his own choices but the choices of others in the play. McCaig is easily relatable to for the audience which helps them connect to him from the very first moment he is on stage. He will capture you in the world he lives in and the mess he has created. You will more than likely find yourself wanting to help him out.
T.J. Lamando stars as Solomon in the production, a vulnerable teenage who learns by the end that the best person you can be every day is yourself. Lamando is fantastic as Solomom who isn’t quiet sure of who he is yet and brings that sympathy to the audience throughout the piece as more and more personal information about him is discovered. When it all hits the fan and Lamando finds himself at his lowest point, so does the audience. We are able to easily connect the him through the choices Lamando makes making this character someone we all know and experience in our daily lives. Lamando may appear as your typical teen but there is nothing typical about his strong acting choices for this part.
Paige McNamara stars as Diwata, your typical over the top teenage girl in high school who believes her world is far more important than others and consistently seeks approval from those around her. McNamara nails the character on the head by the time she gets into it and has the audience practically rolling in the aisles with the outlandish lines her character has been given. Why I do wish McNamara’s character would have started smaller in the beginning only to grow into what it became, I can’t complain about the overall final performance; Downright hilarious and far too much fun. McNamara is the comedic force of the piece and consistently delivers laughs not only when the audience needs them most but even more, when they aren’t even expecting it.
Jeanine Bruen stars as the adult figure in the piece appearing as both the teacher and reporter throughout the production. While Bruen may only be a sophomore at Wagner College, she proves very strong in her acting choices and demeanor on stage leaving no one questioning her real age. The adult role serves as an interesting part of the piece that not only shows how adult relationships with teenagers have fallen part in our modern world but also shows how adults are still able to learn from teens. The brightest example of this comes from when the reporter has the chance to experience a dance the speech and debate club has prepared for her. While we only had the chance to experience Bruen on stage a few times this time around, keep an eye out for her. She is sure to go far if she keeps up the great work.
When it came to the technical aspects of the show, this is the main area in which the overall production suffered. While Stackhouse does make great use of the table and chairs he has on stage, the production does overall lack a set design which I would have enjoyed seeing and believe would have helped within the piece for scene transitions. The other major technical aspects of the piece that suffered was the costumes. Throughout the show there are a few minor changes and many add ons as certain scenes require, but overall there is no major costume design. This is something I believe this production truly needed especially for the scene involving Mary Warren and Abraham Lincoln. While the scenes are still funny and deliver well to an audience, they would have come off overall much stronger if costumes had been provided.
While some human beings may find freedom of speech a basic right of the current world we live in, there are far too many people in the world being silenced. Far too many people in the world do not have the chance to speak up about who they are and for others to be okay with that. They do not have the chance to speak and debate. While we may find ourselves in a society that freely allows conversation, debate and us to speak about whatever topics we’d like, let us never lose that will to speak and debate. For it is with this basic human skill, we have made some of the greatest possibilities into realities, discoveries and achievements this world has ever seen. Speech and Debate was presented through Wagner College Completely Student Productions December 4th, 5th and 6th ar various locations in New York City. Luner on Theatre attended the December 6th performance at Stage Left Studio Theatre in Midtown Manhattan. For more information, visit Wagner College’s Completely Student Productions Official Website. Be sure to follow Luner on Theatre on Facebook and Follow Us on Twitter as well! We are constantly updating these pages with information! And of course, check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only need but want to know and so much more!