I love it when I discover new favorites; CCM’s SPEECH AND DEBATE gave me that opportunity times two.
First, the script is wonderful. It’s contemporary, its funny, all while feeling very real. And its age appropriate, which is not always possible in a college training program. The story is about three high school students who’s lives intertwine all around controversy; their own personal crises have brought them together and we uncover their secrets as they figure them out themselves. There’s Howie (Ryan Garrett), the openly gay 18-year-old who wants to get the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance off the ground. There’s Solomon (Owen Alderson), a 16-year-old hard-nosed journalist who wants to break a big story to get his writing career started. And then there’s Diwata (Katie Langham), an online blogger and musical theatre nerd who wants – no, NEEDS, to perform. I will be seeing this show – one of my new favorites – produced again, I’m certain.
These students manipulate one another to serve their own purposes, using secrets they discover along the way, while also forming an unusual bond of friendship. I’m literally tearing up writing about it because its such a lovely and touching story. The sap in me loved it!
The writing is very strong; the performances are also. Garrett, if he finds his footing by the end of the run, has potential to fully bring “Howie” to life. Anderson, also, struggled with some lines on opening night but shows tons of potential. Both of these young men have the honor and maybe the misfortune of being cast in their first CCM show opposite Langham. This young lady is on track to be a major comedic star. Like TV and film’s Melissa McCarthy, she appears to have an unusual confidence and no shame. Her bold, brave, and hysterical “Diwata” ranks up there with the best performances I’ve seen all season. She is on the list of people I want to watch again and again and if I had time this weekend I would try to go back just to see her first monologue. She’s physical, she’s bizarre, and she’s the most engaging character in a play I’ve seen in some time. I’m gushing, I know, but I was absolutely blown away by her performance and she is now one of my favorites. She is a genuine tour de force. Also appearing in small roles are Sarah Davenport and Colleen Ladrick, who hold their own in their few moments on stage.
There were some technical issues at the start of the show; there’s use of video projection that is crucial to the story but unfortunately part of the text conversation couldn’t be seen because of the size of the screen. Otherwise, the production elements were flawless, which is an accomplishment given the lack of budget for this Studio show. Director Richard Hess keeps the 1 hour and 45 minute play moving at a good pace. I loved the incorporation of music and dance (with a hilarious routine choreographed by musical theatre junior Samantha Pollino) and think that all of these elements work together to tell us the story of these three teenagers.
I’m so happy I discovered this new play and I cannot wait to see what is next for all of these talented actors. If you can, try to see SPEECH AND DEBATE before it closes tonight. Tickets are free; you may need to waitlist to see it . . . but trust me, its worth it.
SPEECH AND DEBATE shows again today at 2pm and closes tonight at 8PM. Up next for CCM Drama is THE HEIDI CHRONICLES opening in February. For more information about CCM productions, call the box office at 513-556-4183 or click here.