Arts & Events

Theatre Review: SPEECH & DEBATE at Aurora

By John A. McMullen II.
Tuesday June 29, 2010 - 10:47:00 AM
Maro Guevara) Jayne Deely, and Jason Frank take a dance break in SPEECH & DEBATE.
David Allen
Maro Guevara) Jayne Deely, and Jason Frank take a dance break in SPEECH & DEBATE.

Please O please O please, people!There is a reason for the theatrical convention of two acts separated by an intermission.When half of your audience has white hair and tricky bladders, you have a little break after about 55 minutes for a little potty time, a little drinky-poo, a cookie, a chat, then back in for another 45. Unless you are going to deliver a chock-a-block thrilling ninety minutes tops, dispense with the NO INTERMISSION FOR AN HOUR AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES which is how long this pointless play runs. 

There were three thrills in SPEECH AND DEBATE at the Aurora Theatre—they were the two musical and one dance number which lasted about 10 minutes combined.If only they could have reversed the time of endless yakking with the very entertaining singing and dancing, it would have then been worth the price of admission. 

Other than that, it was like sitting through three and a half episodes of Saved by the Bell.Worse, it seemed like it was written BY a high school student.They have good young actors whose talent was wasted on this meatless, pointless script perhaps worthy of an after-school teenage special.To further bolster my viewpoint, consider that Entertainment Weekly, our national arbiter of shlock, hailed it as one of the 10 best plays of last season. 

Ripped from the headlines, it is a story about right-wing politicians and teachers who are “chicken-hawks” (i.e., older males who prefer and prey on teenage boys near or just over the age of consent) and sexual blackmail.When Law and Order: SVU has done this storyline to death, it’s time to run in the other direction. 

Nevertheless, the actors entertain us.Jayne Deely is a talent to be reckoned with, and delights us with several long monologues of believable adolescent loopiness.She plays Diwata, an annoyingly hyper-active actress-wanna-be who can never get cast by the high-school drama teacher Mr. Healy, and vows a vendetta against him (and aren’t closeted high school drama teachers an easy and overdone target).When her blog is read by gay student Howie (Maro Guevara) who is out, he comments online that he’s had an IM sex chat with ol’ Mr. Healey the pederast, which the high school hot-shot reporter-wanna-be Solomon (Jason Frank) picks up on.Guevara has the dearly-desired ability of naturalness on stage, and is an actor to watch. Frank is young and a bit of a one-note samba, but with his good white-bread looks and more training, he’ll be seen again. Holli Hornlien has two cameos as teacher and reporter, and, while cameos are always a challenge, her acting seems forced compared to these youngsters’ naturalness. 

Our heroine Diwata proceeds to extort the boys into joining the Speech and Debate club so she has somewhere to perform. They then have a mutual extortion-filled stand-off wherein secrets are outed while this warped triad tries to further their self-seeking goals.It really doesn’t seem to matter.Mr. Healy never gets brought to heel.  

(Funny comment heard on the way out: “I couldn’t believe that a teacher would molest a student on school grounds. That just seemed so unrealistic!” Somebody save me from middle-class naiveté.) 

Abortion, teenage gay sex, teenage straight unprotected sex resulting in pregnancy resulting in abortion, adult hypocrisy, the inability to talk about real concerns in high school—give me a break!Is this the stuff of $45 per ticket mature theatre?Even on Gay Pride Weekend when my spirits are up, I couldn’t make excuses for this cheesy excuse for a play that reveals nothing that we didn’t know before, where laughs come from the actors’ sense of humor rather than from funny lines, and has no discernible resolution. 

The set is spiffy with a paneled upscale classroom but the pointless projections of magazine ads and art had me scratching my head, and I can connect pretty much anything in my fetid imagination. But the set does a happy surprise and breaks away to colored and flashing lights for the treasured yet scant dance number. 

Anyway, stay away. Unless you’re under 18.Funny, because, by my count, there were over 70 gray and bald heads in the audience of 120.A little embarrassing all around, but the audience stayed awake and laughed good-naturedly.However, there was a bathroom rush at the curtain. 


SPEECH AND DEBATE at Aurora Theatre, 2081Addison Street, Berkeley through July 18. 

Tickets/info www.auroratheatre.orgor (510) 843-4822 

Written by Stephen Karam, directed by Robin Stanton, musical composition and sound design by Chris Houston, musical direction by Billy Philadelphia, choreography by LiWen Ang, lighting by Kurt Landisman, set by Eric Sinkonnen, and costumes by Callie Floor. Stage management by Angela Nostrand. 

WITH: Maro Guevara, Holli Hornlien, Jayne Deely, and Jason Frank. 


John McMullen is a member of SFBATCC and ATCA, and takes comments at