Misfit teens are thrown together and discover truths both ugly and redeeming as they deal with their peers and the powers that be. Been there, done that.
Ah, but Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate is much deeper than a Molly Ringwald parable for today's generation. "It's very honest," says Timothy Reynolds, who's directing the show as Bay Street Theatre's summer production. "I normally don't like high school plays, 'we're kids, let's talk about our problems,' because I feel like that's all been done with The Breakfast Club. And we don't really need to re-hash it."
In Speech and Debate, Oregon high schoolers Howie, Diwata and Solomon band together in a quest to unmask their school's (male) drama teacher, who's been preying on young boys. Each of the characters is lonely and self-obsessed: Frumpy and freaky Diwata is a fanatic for blowsy Broadway musicals, Solomon is a nerdy reporter for the school paper, and Howie — openly gay and apparently the perv's latest target — is trying to find himself.
Reynolds, who directed Bay Street's Reefer Madness in April, quickly discovered the richness in what the New York Times called a "funny and brilliantly performed little show."
If you haven't guessed, Speech and Debate is a dark comedy.
"What I like about it is, as it goes through the story it doesn't go out of its way very naturally," explains the director. "It avoids a lot of clichés. The characters are very real. And I was coming out of Reefer Madness, where all the characters are very fake and two-dimensional. To actually jump into a show where we're thinking of all things three-dimensionally, it's a nice change of pace."
The trio's conversations about freedom, independence and sexuality — all in the pursuit of what they feel is truth and justice — can get pretty frank and brutal.
"I remember when I was in high school, something horrible would happen and we would make these off-color jokes about it," Reynolds says. "That's the way that you deal with it. And over the course of the show, as secrets are being revealed and the characters are being a little bit more open with each other, one of the instinctual responses is to laugh at it. To make a joke about it. And a lot of the jokes are really cutting, but the way that it's written, it's still really funny."
And unlike, say, The Breakfast Club, there's no big resolution and no real moral. It's all about the journey.
"That's one of the clichés that it avoids," Reynolds stresses. "It's not a play that presents answers."
A glass of Sweet Tease
Back in April, when Megan Jones and Bonnie Bozell launched their Kickstarter bid, they had no idea what would happen. The Savannah women pitched an old-time burlesque show called Ol' Devil Sherman and the Mint Juleps, hoping to bring their love of pinup culture, burlesque and vaudeville ("Lights! Music! Dancing and Singing!") to a homegrown audience.
Through Kickstarter donations, Jones and Bozell were able to raise more than their goal for the project, and we'll get to see the results this week, June 27 and 28, at Muse Arts Warehouse.
Early on, the Mint Juleps founders were joined by an aspiring burlesque troupe, the Savannah Sweet Tease, which provided the dancing element (aka "burly girls") for the "hilarious and sexy" local revue.
"The show gets the word out for our troupe," says Wendy Denney, a choreographer who's one of three Sweet Tease creative directors. "Kind of a dry run for our girls."
The Sweet Tease plan on performing — post-Juleps event — six or eight straight burlesque shows per year. The first one will be Sept. 20 at the Jinx.
As for this week's Muse happening, it's all about va-va-variety. "The show starts out with the Mint Juleps," Denney explains, "which is like a throwback to the group routines in Singin' in the Rain, the girls that come out at the party and dance. And they have belly dancers, a girl who's dancing with a live boa constrictor, accordion players, comedians and a couple of girls doing a pretty traditional striptease."
Comedian, writer and actor Christopher Soucy will be your titular host, Ol' Devil Sherman.
"So it's really more of a throwback to vaudeville," says Denney, "rather than just burlesque."