Never wary of treading into gritty territory, Ignition Theatre’s rendition of Stephen Karam’s Speech & Debate has opened the company’s new season.
Described as a ‘savvy, dark comedy’ the production runs through Saturday 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, interestingly enough, in the school’s first Speech & Debate team.
It’s a raw, fascinating look into the turbulent world of teen culture, tapping into the steely guardedness and raw vulnerability that often characterizes youth during those years. There’s longing for independence and identity but also a persistent urge to belong. Speech & Debate, via its powerful script and compelling performances, conveys that emotional tug-of-war exceptionally well.
Diwata, terrifically portrayed by a charming and expressive Mari Chartier, publishes a video blog insinuating she knows something about a scandal. Howie (Chad Pitura) leaves his number on her site, insinuating he knows something more. And student reporter Solomon (Mosa Sayyad) contacts both of them to get the scoop.
Pitura is fantastic in an emotionally demanding role. Struggling to find his place as a gay teen in a seemingly hostile community, Howie is plagued by anger and frustration but deep down he’s a sensitive, troubled soul. The interplay of his relationships with the others, as they waver between keeping secrets and having a desire to bare their own souls, is incredibly interesting to watch.
Sayyad is also very strong as Solomon, the overly inquisitive student reporter hell-bent on digging up scandal but who has a few well-guarded surprises of his own. Thanks to the energy of his and the others’ performances, the pace doesn’t falter for a second as plot aspects become clearer, albeit not necessarily simpler.
The play was penned by playwright Stephen Karam when he was 17. No wonder the words bristle with such relevance and poignancy. The author was writing about a world he knew, and to their credit, the actors have captured the angst and ache to carve out a meaningful identity that is intrinsic to teen life.
For tickets, call 403-341-6500 or visit www.ignitiontheatre.ca.