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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, October 01, 2023

Minimalistic 'Speech and Debate' wows

With a slightly unconventional subject matter, “Speech & Debate,” a play by Stephen Karam performed last weekend by The Undergraduate Theater Association, was an impressive actualization of the troubles adolescents find themselves confronting on the grounds of their identity and place in the world. Featuring a cast of only four and a minimal set, this show tells the tale of three unlikely classmates joining together for a multitude of reasons, finding themselves in the process.

Diwata is unique and awkward—a perfect representation of an unsure teen in a relatively small town. Her life goal is to be an actress, but she settles with starting a speech and debate club at her high school to kick her career off. At the start of the play, she makes a video blog complaining about her drama teacher at school and his clear lack of appreciation for talent. This vlog, which is a recurring event in the play, also involves some wonderful drunken singing and piano playing.

One of the viewers of her blog, Howie, is a new student at Diwata’s school. Feeling lost in his new environment, he decides to start a Gay-Straight Alliance, but recruits no members due to the conservative climate of his town. Upon finding Diwata’s vlog, Howie comments claiming to have secret information about the teacher. From there, a fiasco unfolds in which Solomon, a fervidly liberal writer for the school paper, attempts to address the issues of sexual harassment by authorities using Howie’s and Diwata’s information. The three come together under unusual circumstances and begin to appreciate each other in new ways. Through the power of confrontation and empathy, each comes to terms with their own past, present and future.

There were very few downfalls to this performance. Each member of the small cast shone in their own way and accurately depicted the high schoolers trying to figure out exactly who they are. Diwata, played by Claire Zhuang, was absolutely the star of the show. Her quirky personality was the perfect mix of teenage awkwardness and adult confidence. Her witty lines and comedic songs meshed well with her overall demeanor, which was displayed through her adoration of Mary Warren from “The Crucible.” The sarcasm of the character contrasted the blatant honesty of a teenager struggling to recover from a bad experience in her past and move on with her life to achieve her dreams. Though Zhuang had a few slight line mishaps, they fit with the character and her erratic nature.

Solomon, a character of solitude and drive, finds himself surprisingly lost in his situation, an important characteristic that is well communicated by actor Aaron Heaps. His serious demeanor is often broken down with whining and complaining, but is also matched by strength in his conviction and a need to avoid self-confrontation. His secret looms over him every day, another trait often referenced with body language and harsh commentary.

Cody Kour portrayed Howie with a true understanding of the character and a great talent for silent communication. While Howie seemed full of himself at some points, at others the character's presumably shy nature overtook the confidence otherwise demanded. However, his tacit understanding of situations truly brought out the message of the show—growing up is hard and confusing, but confidence in oneself and drive will pave the way.

Overall, “Speech & Debate” was a wonderful coming of age tale. A heavy story with light comedy, this show brought an extremely realistic sense to what could have easily been an over performed work.


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