Stage blogging

A chat room sex scandal
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 1, 2009

The main characters of the play Speech and Debate, three Oregon high school misfits, do a lot of their living among the modern technologies of chat rooms, Google, and personal video blogs. These technologies sometimes hyper-contextualize their lives, and other times liberate them from context almost entirely — which makes the border realm between adolescence and adulthood a particularly fraught and interesting place.

In this brave new medial world, the three teens of Speech and Debate are brought together by the cyber-ripples of a sex scandal involving a chat room and one of their teachers. The unlikely team — nerdy aspiring journalist Soloman (Christopher Reiling), out gay Howie (Philip Hobby), and awkward drama girl Diwata (Rachel Flehinger) — are out to disclose the truth in Stephen Karam's irreverent dark comedy. Sean Mewshaw directs a thrillingly multi-medial production in the first of what I hope will be many theater works presented by SPACE Gallery.

This savvy and technologically glamorous production shows us portraits of the teens via beautifully projected manifestations of their own media: We watch Diwata talk into a camera to broadcast her video blog while simultaneously, her huge image looks right into our eyes from the screen behind her. When Howie flirts in a chat room, the bated-breath start and stop of the text is large and addictively rhythmic behind him. The result is an exhilarating and precisely-pitched portrait not just of three teenagers with a mission, but of adolescence itself in this uber-cyber-century.

I strongly recommend making time for this one. The acting is smart and rambunctious and the technical magic is utterly engrossing — including, as you might expect from SPACE, a super sound system (blasting, notably, "Hip-Hop-O-Potamus" and George Michael's "Freedom").

Speech and Debate | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | April 1 @ 10:30 pm and April 4 and 5 @ 8 pm | 207.838.3006

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