Teen Struggle Comically and Poignantly Portrayed in Theatrix’s “Speech & Debate”

(Photo credit to Maya Lynn Pierce for Theatrix)

By Julia Doerr
“Theatrix exists to provide the students of the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film an opportunity to create, collaborate, and practice their craft within an all student environment. . . . Theatrix strives to allow students to practice their craft of directing, design, and acting to create a production filled with student
passion.” -Theatrix’s Mission statement

This weekend, on the third floor of the Temple Building, the students of Theatrix are staging Speech & Debate, a play written by Stephen Karam and directed by Ethan Greenlee. It’s a good production, worthy of your attention and a very affordable entertainment option.

Three characters, all students in an Oregon high school, are the main focus of the play’s
narrative. Each of them has a unique personal struggle and agenda, but all seek an identity to be comfortable with and a voice in the world at large. Solomon (Matthew Blom) envisions for himself a life as an investigative reporter and strives to write about important and controversial subjects, not the safe and puny topics typical in a high school newspaper. Howie (Connor Garrison) is fairly comfortably gay, but wants a chance to build community in a world where others like him can connect and speak out in meaningful ways. His immediate goal is to start a Gay Straight Alliance at his new school, like the one he belonged to in Portland. Diwata (Emma Parizek), an aspiring actress, has a need to perform that has been squelched by the school drama teacher who refuses to assign her the roles she wants. She is desperate to start a Speech and
Debate Club.

Although the title of the play is obviously a reference to Diwata’s mission, it also describes the nature of much of the play’s dialogue. Each scene is given a title which is one of the categories of competitive speech and debate activities, and the characters argue their way through it. Along the way some secrets are revealed. Both the mayor and the drama teacher, who never appear onstage, apparently have scandalous ones, much discussed by Solomon, Howie, and Diwata. The three leads harbor some too, and each fears the revelation of those secrets, although they are eventually shared among them.
Blom, Garrison, and Parizek all turn in solid and believable performances, as does the one other actor in the play, Theresa Christiansen, who carries off two adult roles with competence.

Ethan Greenlee’s choices as director seem to be good ones. The whole show works well. I felt so thoroughly bathed in teen angst that by the curtain call I was palpably relieved to see how relaxed and happy the actors appeared as they took their bows.

If you go: Performances remain on Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 3, at 2:00 pm in UNL’s Lab Theatre on the third floor of the Temple Building at 12th and R Streets. Tickets may be purchased for $7 online or at the door one hour prior to performance in the Lab Theatre’s third floor lobby (cash only; seats subject to availability).

Julia Doerr is a retired high school English teacher with a lifelong love of plays, both as literature and performance. She assisted, as dramaturg, with the direction of several Shakespeare plays during her tenure at Lincoln High School, where she spent 27 of her 33 years teaching. Julia loves to attend the theater, to write, and to share her opinions.  That makes writing reviews her dream assignment.

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