Brown Paper Box Co.’s “Speech & Debate” tells the story of three teenagers working together to rebel against toxic and abusive behavior by their teachers and the other adults in their community. It’s a timely premise and all of the very young actors in this production are exciting to watch; keep your eyes on the career trajectories of Darren Patin and Deanalís Resto in particular, they’re going places. But the execution falls a little flat.
The script feels like a commission designed to hit a checklist of teen issues: pregnancy and abortion, in-person and cyber bullying, cliques and exclusionary friend groups and clubs, rape and sexual harassment. They’re all valid and important issues to explore theatrically but wedging so many of them into ninety minutes disallows a real exploration of any of them.
Perhaps in a smaller venue this show would have landed with the kind of intimacy it needs to work. A piece that attempts to call out rape culture would have been more effective if there hadn’t been quite so many references to “The Crucible” (surely one of the grossest examples of toxic masculinity and victim-blaming in playwriting history). But ultimately the distance from the audience, the performative nature of the characterization, and the amateurish direction makes for a very ho-hum evening at the theater. (Emma Couling)
Brown Paper Box Company at The Edge Theater, 5451 North Broadway, brownpaperbox.org, $25. Through March 4.