SPEECH & DEBATE at the Aurora



Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle


Now through July 18, the Aurora Theatre of Berkeley is staging SPEECH & DEBATE by Stephan Karam.


As anyone who has graduated from a public school within the last decade can tell you, or as anyone who has attempted to teach in a public school can inform you, freedom of expression within secondary education has greatly expanded, yet it remains a skittish issue.


Within public education, anyone above the rank of teacher basically serves at the pleasure of the community and its mugwumps and muck-a-mucks: it serves no administrator's or educrat's professional interest to rock the boat with probing investigative journalism performed by some earnest but politically insensitive student.


Muckraking and an unmuzzled press in the hands of a naïve high school student—a.k.a. loose cannon—are more likely to invite the wrath of an embarrassed bureaucrat, than a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize.


Texting, Sexting, Twittering and Facebook have collectively served to lower contemporary society's threshold for privacy boundaries—frosted glass has given way to transparent shower curtains: the information age has tempted us to engage in a form of personal transparency even to the limits of exhibitionism within cyberspace.


Maro Guevara, Jason Frank and Jayne Deely—as Howie, Solomon and Diwata—as the teenage principals in this riveting play, exploit information in order to pursue their high school agendas.


Information is a form of currency: it buys cooperation, forms coalitions and it ferrets out additional information: like earning compound interest.


Facebook currently faces legal challenges from subscribers who feel that Facebook has compromised their confidentiality; likewise Diwata maintains a personal video blog site and she is shocked to learn that internet browsers, including fellow students, have been visiting her blog: as if they have snuck into her bedroom to read her diary or took a picture of her at a topless beach.


Howie want s to form a Gay-Straight-Alliance: he parlays his confidential information to gain a faculty sponsor for the alliance.


Diwata wants damaging information on her drama teacher—Mr. Healy—who failed to recognize her nascent talents and miscast her as a voice in the chorus, rather than the lead, in a high school production of ONCE UPON A MATRESS.


Solomon wants to do a profile on the city mayor, shining the torch of high school journalism on the hypocrisy of Republican gays who gain both political edge and moral high ground by systemically bashing gays.


Solomon, reflecting the expressed attitudes of Rick Santorum, the former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania who argued that Americans do not have a constitutional right to privacy with respect to sex, demands full disclosure—no pun intended—from the city mayor, while keeping his own sexual identity under wraps and well as that Democratic party members.


The play is excellent grist for thought.


Jayne Deely is an absolute delight as Diwata: the brilliant, machinating high school drama queen who is groping for power, position and influence in that small pond known as high school.


SPEECH & DEBATE provides an excellent vantage point from which to survey where we, as a wireless society, have delivered ourselves and our private lives.


For tickets to this mustn't miss, in-the-now comedy, call the box office at 510-8443-4822 or surf over to www.auroratheatre.org.