Speech and Debate 

3 stars

Phoenix Theatre, Katrina & Frank Basile Theatre

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There's a great little play with memorable performances inside this overly long production of Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate. First performed off-Broadway in 2007, Karam's issue-driven comedy anticipates Glee, while it pays homage to John Hughes' brat pack films. As in those teen forums, Karam's storyline is loaded. Three isolated teens deal with pregnancy, sexual identity and a school scandal, all while forming a debate team that cements their budding friendship. The overload works for Speech, because of tenderly funny, earnestly outrageous characters who have little time for syrupy conclusions. Kelli Johnson is the theater geek with a grudge against the drama teacher. Matthew Van Oss (End Days) is the cool geek who hooks up with that teacher online. Mark Presto is the aspiring journalist, who will use both of them in pursuit of his first big story. All craft some wonderful comic bits under the direction of first-time Phoenix director Lori Raffel (Artistic Director of Carmel Community Players). The best puts hip hop into the wrong hands and Johnson into a frighteningly un-sexy body stocking. Still, a third of this play should have been cut, including computer projections of online chats, disengaged phone conversations, and most adult dialogue. The trick to being a great little play is you must get rid of everything that's not great. Through June 27; 635-7529. www.phoenixtheatre.org.

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