Speech & Debate humourous, shocking

A chilling scene in which a barely legal teenager trolls the Internet for sex kick-starts Ignition Theatre’s season opening black comedy Speech & Debate. A young male with the Internet handle “BLboi” meets a 36-year-old named “biguy” in a gay chat room and arranges a park meeting at midnight.

Lisa Spencer Cook as the reporter

Lisa Spencer Cook as the reporter

A chilling scene in which a barely legal teenager trolls the Internet for sex kick-starts Ignition Theatre’s season opening black comedy Speech & Debate.

A young male with the Internet handle “BLboi” meets a 36-year-old named “biguy” in a gay chat room and arranges a park meeting at midnight.

Watching this disturbing exchange unfold in the Stephen Karam play, which runs until Sept. 25 at The Matchbox theatre in Red Deer, will no doubt prompt alarmed parents to go home and make sure their kids are all right — because surviving high school apparently requires a lot more than it used to.

Speech & Debate is an entertaining and illuminating play about 21st Century adolescent alienation that’s often as funny as it is shocking.

While it suffers from an unsatisfyingly tepid ending that seems a cop-out on the playwright’s part, the production can be favorably compared to the John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club — only the problems of Karam’s teenagers are kicked up several notches on the intensity scale.

The savvy comedy tells the story of three misfit adolescents who come from three different, but equally reviled corners of loser-dom.

Diwata is a theatre geek who longs for the starring role in the school play, but is usually cast as an extra. While a star in her own mind, the reality is that Diwata, played by Mari Chartier, can’t get any celebrity status.

Heck, she can’t even get people to stop calling her “Diwanda.”

Howie, performed by Chad Pitura, is a gay teen without friends.

He blames this on being a relative newcomer in the community instead of the real reason — that his caustic detachment and self-involvement have prevented him from making any real connections with others.

Finally there’s would-be high school newspaper reporter Solomon, who’s obsessed with writing a story about the sexual high jinks of conservative politicians in the area after the town’s mayor is caught in a seedy controversy.

Exactly why is Solomon, played by Mosa Sayyad, so concerned about sex scandals? As the play unfolds, the reasons become obvious.

The trouble is, no one takes Solomon seriously as a writer, or a person.

Speech & Debate starts with Diwata threatening on her blog to reveal a scandal involving one of her teachers.

This peaks the interest of her school mates Howie and Solomon.

As the unlikely trio unite over the information, they form real relationships with each other — and a connection with audience members, who are rooting for them to overcome the scary obstacles they encounter in the transition to adulthood.

Just as The Breakfast Club ends with misfits making friendships, so does Speech & Debate — no real surprises there.

But what is a revelation is how smartly written this play is, and what great performances director Matt Grue gets from his young cast, which includes Lisa Spencer-Cook in the dual role of teacher/reporter.

Today’s teenagers grow up faster than ever — and as the liner notes in the program state, Speech & Debate paints a realistic picture of the borderland between late adolescence and adulthood.

It’s a time when the heady mix of grown-up ideas and childish bravado can lead youths down some dangerous paths.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com