HIGH EMOTIONS - Mari Chartier

Ignition hosts dark comedy Speech & Debate

Described as a ‘savvy, dark comedy’ Ignition Theatre’s production of Speech & Debate kicks off the company’s sixth season Sept. 16.

Additional shows run Sept. 17-18 and 21-25 at The Matchbox. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m.

Directed by Matt Grue, the story follows three teens grappling with sexual secrets and drawn together via the Internet. They’re linked by their affiliations with a sex scandal whose introduction results in the school’s first Speech & Debate team.

Diwata (Mari Chartier) publishes a video blog insinuating she knows something about the scandal. Howie (Chad Pitura) leaves his number on her site, insinuating he knows something more. And Solomon (Mosa Sayyad) contacts both of them to get the scoop.

Stakes escalate as more secrets are both willingly and unwillingly revealed. Rounding out the cast is Lisa Spencer Cook as the teacher.

“Kids have so much access these days to so much information. And information in the wrong hands is kind of like a deadly weapon,” explains Grue. Originally set to hit the stage last season, circumstances changed and the production was shelved for the time being. But Grue was extremely drawn to the play and gave it another read.

“At its core, it’s about people trying to carve out an identity,” explains Grue, who is Ignition’s artistic director. On some levels, it also resembled last year’s production of Year After Year where people are coming to terms with a series of thorny personal and relational issues.

“That play had essentially the same kind of theme except it was with people in their mid to late 20s who had a little bit more life experience. But what happens when characters like that are 16 or 17, and it’s happening against the backdrop of high school?”

Throw in the evolution of technology and social networking and another critical dimension is added to the tale. “Every student these days has a cell phone, and the way they can share information instantly and spread it so quickly is incredible,” he says.

“It’s like a digital telephone game where it starts as one thing and ends up as another.”

Sounds somewhat heavy, but Grue said there is a definite comedic tone surfacing throughout.

Grue describes it as a play that’s much like other productions that Ignition has staged over the years. It’s tough to strictly categorize. “I wouldn’t label it a comedy, and I wouldn’t label it a drama. There’s a scene in this that will hopefully be one of the funniest things we’ve ever done, and there are scenes that are devastating where you are blindsided by emotion. I think those are the best kinds of theatre experiences.

“You also get three really interesting, unique outcast characters on this journey, and they all have their own motives.”

The play is relatively new, and was penned remarkably enough by playwright Stephen Karam when he was 17-years-old. But despite his young age and the fact this was his first play, something about the script struck a chord with theatre insiders and the compelling production took off from there.

“What also makes it remarkable is that it has this fresh honesty because of how old he was, but there’s this maturity about it as well,” explains Grue. “It’s one of the most heavily produced plays now in North America.”

Covering production aspects of the play are Dustin Clark (sound, video and production design/original music); Patrick Beagan (lighting design); Caitlyn Thoreson (costume design); Chantel Hutchison (choreography) and Stephanie Ridge (stage management).

Meanwhile, Grue is eager to launch the season on such a powerful note.

“It’s like Glee. On HBO.”

Tickets are available at The Matchbox, charge by phone (403-341-6500) and online at www.ignitiontheatre.ca.

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