You can’t judge every play by its title.
The unassuming and scholastic “Speech & Debate” promotes both the off-color quirky humor and touching moments that run rampant in this decidedly not cliché dark comedy.
The theatrical work’s generic synopsis is reminiscent of familiar teenage movie plots – three outcasts band together as a debate team to expose a teacher who preys on his male students. The bare bones description barely begins to cover some of the crazier antics the wildly eccentric students get into.
The students plan to perform a play which includes a time-traveling Mary Warren from the 1952 Salem witch trial tale, “The Crucible,” as well as sung advice delivered to a young, gay President Lincoln and performance in the form of a secret interpretive dance number.
The play isn’t just fun and games. Beneath the boisterous antics and fun-loving hijinks, the characters are kids on the verge of adulthood. They have high aspirations, yet a childish approach to getting what they want, embodying the telltale characteristics of naive teenagers.
Howie, played by sophomore Henry Morillo, felt a connection between his own personal life and his theatrical character.
“Playing this character was a lot of fun, because he is in many ways similar to myself…It was fun to find the parts of us that are similar and bring those out, and then also access parts of me that I wouldn’t in real life,” Morillo said.
Others had to reach further to grasp on to their characters’ distinct demeanors.
“He is a nerd. Very nerdy, doesn’t have many friends,” sophomore Nick Harnish laughingly said, describing his character, Solomon. Solomon’s motives are mainly driven by his desire to be a famous reporter.
“He tries to be much older than he is. He doesn’t really know what being a kid means,” Harnish said.
And finally there’s Diwata, the star of her own show, played by senior Elyse Steingold, whose podcasts are her main way of reaching out to people.
“She’s really fun, and she’s really quirky. She’s not afraid to be who she is,” Steingold said.
Because characters and their interactions are so vital to the show, director and senior Ariel Warmflash worked with the actors to help give their characters a unique voice.
“She gave us all questions she wanted us to answer for our characters, things like, ‘When was your first kiss?’, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” Harnish said.
Morillo admittedly tries to leave a lingering impression, asking himself how to relay traits and messages most effectively from his character to the audience.
The production as a whole benefited from having a small, tightly-knit cast that was already familiar with each others’ personalities and own quirky oddities.
“The cast members were already really close friends before this happened. It’s a great experience because we were all really comfortable with each other. We all can be honest with each other, so when something went wrong, it was easy to correct,” Morillo said.
Priya Fremerman, public relations representative for Generic Theatre Company, said the talent working on the show, from cast to crew, flourished under the guidance of Warmflash, whose passion for the production clearly shines through.
“Generic is kind of known for doing thought-provoking shows, and when we saw “Speech & Debate” – it’s comedy but it also has a lot of very real moments – heartwarming moments, moments that make you think, moments that make you feel something, and we saw that in the show and we saw that ability in Ari as a director,” Fremerman said.
“Speech & Debate” opens in Lisner Downsage at 9 p.m. Nov. 10, and 7 and 10 p.m. Nov. 11 and 12.