Kevin Koppman-Gue, Markuz Rodriguez and Rachael VanWormer in ‘Speech and Debate.’ The production closes at the Diversionary Theatre on Sunday, April 11.  CREDIT: Ken Jacques
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‘Speech and Debate’ helps bridge generation gap
Production closes on Sunday
Published Thursday, 08-Apr-2010 in issue 1163
Speech and Debate, a play about three teenage misfits in Salem Oregon, is running at the Diversionary Theatre through Sunday.
Speech and Debate has really clever writing, and we wanted to find a way to connect with younger people in our community,” said Diversionary Theatre’s Executive Director Dan Kirsch.
The production is a revival of the play by Stephen Karam, who wrote it in response to reading a transcript of an online chat between a former mayor of Spokane, Wash. and a gay teenager.
The story centers around three Salem, Ore. high school students, Diwata, portrayed by Rachael VanWormer, Solomon, portrayed by Kevin Koppman-Gue and Howie, played by Markuz Rodriguez.
“They’re sort of brought together by recognizing patterns of events regarding Republican politicians,” Rodriguez said. “They’re all pretty much outcasts in their own way, but they’re smart and haven’t had a moment to shine. They find a way to expose these issues through speech and debate.”
According to Kirsch, audiences enjoy Rachel VanWormer’s performance as Diwata.
“They’re really commenting on the energy she gives and the dynamic she gives to the role of a young person,” Kirsch said.
Rodriguez’ character, Howie, is an 18-year-old gay senior, who grew up in nearby Portland.
“He came out when he was 10 and had a very supportive family,” Rodriguez said. “He’s never really known discrimination and he’s had it very good. He has this pompous attitude and doesn’t understand when people have struggled or have had less privilege. He sort of operates under the delusion that he’s a victim and that gays haven’t really had the voice that he wants, which is true in many cases. He’s gotta lighten up.”
Rodriguez expressed his enthusiasm for performing every night and said he loves the production’s dance finale, referred to as the “Freedom 90” dance.
“I don’t know if people know this, but the song is over six minutes long, so it’s a bear,” Rodriguez said, noting the endurance needed to perform choreography for such an extended duration. “It’s very high energy and the crowd loves it.”
Rodriguez said the choreography is a collaborative effort of the team and said he likes how all of the cast’s work is on display.
Kirsch said the dance is his favorite part of the production and a fun culmination of the play.
“Stephen Karam really expresses a moment in a generation that really hasn’t been expressed before with the chatting, texting sort of culture,” Rodriguez said. “We’re able to infuse the show with our high energy, it’s very joyful and audiences walk away with a good evening and good impression.”
Director Jason Southerland expressed enthusiasm regarding the dance as well.
“It is the joyous release that comes from these three friends,” Southerland said. “We tried to make the dance represent all three of them and there is a classic broadway aspect to the dance, which Diwata clearly would have choreographed.”
Southerland said the initial dance moves are inspired by Fosse, Michael Bennett and Sergio Trujilo.
“Then we have the more pop-video choreography which comes from Howie,” Southerland said, noting the pop choreography is inspired by Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake and Madonna. “Then you have these quirky things Solomon does or adds to the mix. We surprise the audience when Solomon strips and flips [in the air]. It’s the metaphor for freedom that goes with the song.”
Rodriguez said the show may help with communication issues between generations.
“People leave with a good understanding of their nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, who come across very foreign with the way they communicate,” Rodriguez said. “For our audiences, receiving that information is palatable and fun as opposed to confusing and frustrating.”
Rodriguez said he hopes people will see Speech and Debate before it closes.
“It’s a rather short run and it’s one of those shows audience members will want to see again.”
Tickets start at $29. The last show is on Sunday, April 11, at 7 p.m. The Diversionary Theatre is located at 4545 Park Blvd. in University Heights. For more information, call 619-220-0097 or visit

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