Sunday, December 6, 2009

Speech & Debate
Stray Cat Theatre, Tempe Performing Arts Center
Tempe, AZ

Jannesse Davidson is a wonderful comedic actor with amazingly subtle glances and glares, plus the impeccable timing necessary to milk the most out of any laugh line. Watching her in Speech & Debate, the latest Stray Cat Theatre production, will leave you rolling in the aisles with delighted glee as she makes this wryly comic look at three politically astute but unpopular high school students a laugh riot.

She plays Diwata, an opinionated student but, as good as Davidson is, she’s not the only cast member to deliver rich comic portrayals. The other two actors who play fellow students, nerdy Nathaniel Dobson as an officious school newspaper reporter Solomon, and Eric Boudreau as an effeminate and very out-of-the-closest gay Howie keeps pace with Davidson’s high level of comic delivery.

The trio haphazardly discovers each other when they all independently discover a gay male teacher’s sexual exploits with other students. The unlikely team bands together debating whether or not to expose the sex scandal. Playwright Stephen Karam, who co-authored Stray Cat’s far more studied and serious columbinus last season, uses various school projects, including a Debate Team and a weird club, to join the trio. In each project they discuss, debate, and decide if they should use the school sex scandal as an example for that group’s project.

Set in present day Oregon, Speech & Debate parallels the school’s potential scandal to the Spokane mayor who got caught in his dalliances with young guys. Here, the three maturely argue if the teacher and his conquests approved the sexual liaisons. As they battle the potential revelation, they explore their own insecurities.

The play raises interesting issues during the discussions and this trio is caring people who look maturely at the secret. Karam craftily turns this serious topic into a pithy and pointed comedy through tart and off-the-cuff jokes that amuse but are never predictable or expected.

As I said earlier, Speech & Debate's young cast is impeccable as is Katie McFadzen in a small double role as a teacher hoping to squash the revelation and as an inquisitive reporter trying to expose the scandal.

Ron May’s staging helps the cast make the most of the play’s comedy and, as is a May trademark, the play moves swiftly and never slows down. In the limited confines of the Tempe Performing Arts Center, May’s technical crew gets the set, lighting, and sound just right.

Speech & Debate will delight you with its riotous comedy while these mature students tackle a very touchy subject. Speech & Debate continues through December 19. For tickets, call the Stray Cat Theatre box office at 480-820-8022 or order online at

Grade: A

Speech & Debate