A View from the Cliff: “Speech and Debate” at Brooklyn College

Secrets, secrets, secrets. Three young loners have plenty to explain. While meeting in school for their brand new club, “Speech and Debate,” their interactions reveal far more than they expected. In this one-act musical comedy/drama, playwright Stephen Karam and director Michael Raine skillfully toy with the characters’ defenses… and with ours.

The story unfolds in Salem, Oregon but the 17th century Salem, Massachusetts witch hunts from playwright Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” are repeatedly referenced. Yes, there are secrets, secrets, secrets.

We meet Soloman (Henry Nwaru) who firmly warns his teacher (Ashley Desire Arnett) that he intends to disclose some very, very scandalous emails. We also meet Howie (Uki Pavlovic) who is texting some very salacious photos and dialogue with a high school teacher.

The fourth and arguably the central character Diwata (Adama Jackson) has some overly optimistic expectations for her future. She articulates them as she authors her own daily blog. Arnett, as the only adult onstage, plays two roles. She is both rational educator and opportunistic writer.

With this basic information, the fine acting and staging emerge. The characters are initially unsympathetic as bullies (that’s Soloman), overly naïve (that’s Diwata) and shamelessly sexual (that’s Howie). However, the audience soon learns their emotional injuries have created these rigid defenses.

In reality, all three are capable of compassion and concern. By show’s end, we appreciate their feelings as they sing, dance and plan for the future. They have grown into much more than a mundane speech and debate team. Yes, they are emotionally bruised but wiser.

The sets (Betsy Rugg-Hinds) are deceptively simple at first glance. Soon, they prove to be far more crisp and clever. There are tricks with light and darkness, spinning clock faces and amusing visuals projected on the rear wall. Kudos to Karim Rivera Rosado (lighting design) and Itohan Edoloyi (projection design).

Equally solid are the costumes (Justine Del Grosso) and accompanying music and sound (Daniela Hart). All are seamlessly delivered with stage management by Cody Hom.

For information on this and future productions at the New Workshop Theater and their other venues, check the website at http://depthome.brooklyn.cuny.edu/theater/productions, call the box office at 718-951-4500 or like them on Facebook.

As always, save me a seat on the aisle.

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