Theater Review: "Speech & Debate" at the Aurora Theatre

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Through July 18 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. $34-$45; 510-843-4822 or www.auroratheatre.org.

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Speech & Debate looks suspiciously like the first draft of an afterschool special about conservative sexual hypocrisy, written by a teenage Larry David after a double shot of espresso. Focused on three high school students — all of whom are struggling with sexual or social trauma, all of whom say traumatically clever things in a script that constantly winks at the audience to make sure we're on its side — Speech & Debate misses an essential point about adolescence: Teenagers don't care passionately about sexual issues because they've been traumatized; they care because they're teenagers. Instead of just letting them care, the play reduces its characters to a set of issues to be dealt with, then puts them through a forced therapeutic march enlivened with paint-by-numbers zaniness. There are plenty of laugh lines, great production values, and a hilarious dance routine, but in the end these characters would be much more interesting if they had learned from their trauma instead of just talking about it. No person of conscience can be bored when people, even in fiction, are explaining how they ended up raped and/or molested, but we can recognize lazy character development. To see what Speech & Debate is trying to do, watch Glee.

 
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