So just how gay—and as a gay person myself totally mean this in a good way and by which to rate degrees of fabulosity—is the new play at American Theater Company? So gay that in it Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is right up there with Mary Rogers, one of our Mothers of the Musical Theater. Or so gay that a big, fat epic refers to “Hamlet,” “Angels in America” and (long beat) “Wicked.” Or so gay that if a young, ambitious teenager was to time-travel through history meeting cultural giants, his or her roster would include John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Idina Menzel. Most Chicagoans probably know “Wicked,” so one out of three isn’t bad. Whether it’s enough to get the total impact of playwright’s Stephen Karam really gay, but also undeniably really fun, hilarious and oftentimes touching “Speech and Debate” is itself up to debate. Basically, it’s the story of three teenagers—two gay guys and a straight girl—with different social, political and artistic agendas who unwittingly come together to out a closeted teacher for personal gain. Of course, the only people they end up outing to the audience—emotionally and psychologically, at least—is themselves. It’s a character study at heart, but I’ll be damned (again, in a good way) if there isn’t something for everyone. A smart satire on the loss of privacy in the age of “I’ll google it” and “private” blog postings. An attack on prurient journalism and overzealous reporters? A touching coming-of-age teenage-angst dramedy? Karam’s lament for lost youth circa the 1980s. A showcase for some of the most gloriously brilliant song and dance parodies I’ve seen since “Waiting for Guffman.” An excuse to bring to glorious life Diwata, a fabulous and flaming character that deserves to join the pantheon of sublime scene-stealing female creations a la Paul Rudnick or Douglas Carter-Beane. Director PJ Paprelli’s effervescent production connects these sometimes messy dots while a trio of strong performances—Jared McGuire, Patrick Andrews and Sadieh Rifai as Diwata—finds the depth in the dazzle. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, (773)929-1031. This production is now closed.