When the main characters of Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate discover they have a mutual sexual connection to one of their teachers, it sets the stage for a dark comedy about the teens and the high school sex scandal that brings them together.
“It’s a play about teens without being condescending,” says director Brian Cochrane.
Cochrane’s cast agrees and, at a recent table reading, it is immediately apparent that they have all connected to their characters with ease.
“I read the play and was hooked by the second scene,” says Alex Rose, who plays the closeted Solomon. “I thought it was so funny, but it also dealt with real issues and wasn’t glossing over them; they are all believable teenagers. It doesn’t pander to anyone and certainly not to teens.”
“It doesn’t pander to gay people, either,” interjects Scott Button, the only gay actor among the cast, who plays the out and in-your-face Howie.
“The fun thing is the masks they wear almost constantly. It reminded me of my own high school experience because I had to wear my own mask.”
Having grown up in Langley, Button says that, unlike his character Howie, he hid his sexuality in high school. “I wasn’t a bully and I wasn’t traumatized, but I wasn’t myself. I was completely unauthentic.”
Claire Hesselgrave says she was drawn to the role of Diwata, the frumpy girl with an obsession for musicals, by her character’s sincerity.
“The more I read it, the more I realized how many flavours these characters have,” she says. “There is the public face that they carry, but then they have these moments with each other when all the shit is removed and they become very vulnerable.”
Cochrane says the play also tackles some big political issues, like the ex-gay Christian organization Exodus. “It asks a lot of questions: What does it mean to be an adult? When does that happen? What are the things that happen to make you an adult?”
“It also speaks to the power of words and the power of speaking out publicly,” Button adds.
Speech & Debate is presented by Vancouver’s Twenty Something Theatre company, an independent group that hopes to offer young artists, usually just out of local theatre schools, an opportunity to hone their craft and present plays that speak to their generation.