Sunday, January 24, 2010

Play: So High School

Speech and Debate by Stephen Karam, Directed by Andrea Allen, through 21 February, Seattle Rep.

I'm going to be up front about this; this one did not do a lot for me. I am fairly uncomfortable with the comedy of embarrassment, particularly where those being embarrassed are generally clueless about the major wall they are about to crash into. High School is a time for such grand-scale embarrassment, and the play is the story of three kids who are extremely mature and immature at the same time, and whose reach exceeds their grasp.

The three are Solomon (Justine Huertas), would-be reporter looking to address controversial issues, Howie (Trick Danneker), openly gay and dating older men), and Diwata (Erin Stewart), insulted that her talent is not recognized (And whose favorite character from The Crucible was Mary Warren, a character who lies to save her skin). The three are bound together by a secret that each knows a piece of, and each is willing to use their piece to muscle the others. Each has their own additional secrets, weaknesses, and ulterior motives, which drive them but do not do a lot to make them hugable in any sense of the word.

At some points, I had difficulty remembered who had the upper hand on whom, and the play does unspool in fits and starts. It builds to Speech and Debate program where their goals are above their ability to deliver (yeah, very high school) that is both open-hearted and painful to watch. Embarrassment comedy.

The actors are excellent in their roles, though they are playing much younger than their true ages. But sometimes there is something the is rasp-against-the-bone irritating in watching good actors play characters that are not very good actors, and playing them very well. You see the wall coming up, and you know there is going to be no effort to avoid it.

The play itself is disjointed, separated into compartments by the various types of rhetoric and speech categories. Sometimes it works, often (for those of us unexposed to that part of high school), it seems a bit of a stretch. The characters are well-resolved to the point that you wonder why they are hanging around each other, and there are more than a few places where a character is storming out of the conversation, but you know that they will be stopped, not because of something endemic to the character, but because it is necessary for the plot for them to be stopped.

The concept of the play is supposed to embrace modern technology, but what that does is that it allows cheap leaps of logic (a student Googles a teacher's (Amy Thone) campaign contributions - googling is a punchline a lot here, even in cases where wikiing would be more appropriate). It also puts distance between the characters in that they all meet outside real life - blogs, chat rooms, cell phones, before they meet IRL, so we have double meetings throughout.

On the other hand, the Lovely Bride loved it, and in the interest of equal time, share with you some of our discussion over Delfino's pizza later. She felt it was a genuine work, which dealt honestly with the adult-children of high school, a world where there are teen moms but they will change the text of "Once Upon A Mattress" to cater to more conservative local values. She thought it a strong play, and I'm more than willing to voice her opinions and note that your mileage on this may vary.

For me, it was tooth-grindingly tough to embrace and engage with. I came out of it with a reminder of how much the rest of your life is so like high school, and how that is not necessarily a good thing.

More later,