The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University

The Ring-tum Phi

‘Speech and Debate’ tackles identity, community and scandal with dark comedy

The play is Lenfest Director Robert Mish’s last production at Washington and Lee University
Kevin Remington
Adam Chin, ‘24, Stella Adamopoulos, ‘27, and Arun Ghosh, ‘26, dance in nude stockings for a “Speech and Debate” scene.

There is a scandal in the city of Salem, Oregon, and it is up to the newly formed speech and debate club to expose it.

From Nov. 2 to 4, Lenfest Center’s Johnson Theatre hosted Washington and Lee University’s production of “Speech & Debate.” The play was supposed to open on Nov. 1 but was postponed due to the campus-wide lockdown.

“Speech & Debate” is a dark comedy that follows a group of high schoolers as they try to expose their theater teacher for having inappropriate relationships with teenagers.

Solomon, an aspiring journalist played by Arun Ghosh, ’26, is determined to get his first big scoop on the trend of powerful men exploiting young boys in his town.

After his plan to publish the story in his school’s newspaper is thwarted, he is forced to join the speech and debate club and use it as a new platform for his story. There, he teams up with two members of the club to put on an interpretive performance about their teacher’s misconduct.

Robert Mish, the director of the Lenfest Center for the Arts, said he chose to direct “Speech & Debate” because of how it depicts teenagers approaching difficult topics with the respect that adults should.

“In doing my research I’ve learned that this generation, Gen Z, can take on sensitive topics more readily than any of us ever considered doing,” he said.

The play blends dark comedy with serious issues ranging from homophobia to teen pregnancy. Fast-paced banter is masterfully interrupted by the awkwardness that comes with opening up about these issues.

The show emphasizes the importance of finding a community that will accept you no matter what you’ve experienced or who you are.

Solomon, Diwata, played by Stella Adamopoulos, ’27, and Howie, played by Adam Chin, ’24, find this community in each other.

Through their friendship, the trio of misfits comes to terms with their identities and the horrible experiences they went through.

Ghosh described the show as a “coming out story” because his character overcomes trauma surrounding the experience of being a closeted gay teenager. He believes the play will raise awareness at Washington and Lee about the homophobia queer people face and the extent it can impact their lives.

“I think this campus is very heteronormative, and I’ve always been fine with that. But now that I am forced to think about these issues playing this character, it’s definitely something I think is important,” Ghosh said.

Chin added that the cast intended for the audience to feel awkward during the show. He said that while talking about these issues can be uncomfortable, it’s important to have these conversations.

Adamopoulos also said that as a first year student, she never expected to play such a huge role in her first Washington and Lee production. She described playing Diwata as an exciting experience.

“It was fun to play a character who thinks they’re good, but isn’t that good,” she said.

On the opening night, the audience erupted with laughter from the character’s antics, from Diwata’s “creative” musical compositions to the trio’s strange, yet endearing, dance performance done in nude body stockings.

Amelia Fisher, ’24, called the play a “surreal and joyful expression of adolescence.”

Audience members were surprised with the interesting design set. Instead of having the audience sit in front of the stage, Mish had them sit on either side of the actors. Along with the unique stage setup, there were also large projections on both sides of the black box theater where the audience could see Diwata’s notes app or Howie’s text exchanges.

Mish said that the configuration of the stage was a challenge to work with. Because the actors performed with the audience on both sides of them, there was no way to ensure that everyone could always see characters’ expressions.

However, the stage also allowed the audience to be more immersed in the performance because they were so close to the actors.

Along with the stage, working as a small cast had its own set of challenges.

Gosh said that because there were so few actors, everyone had twice as many lines to memorize. But, Gosh added, the small cast gave the actors more freedom with how they interact with one another.

“Speech and Debate” was Mish’s last production as a faculty member at W&L. He is retiring this year.

Mish said he was pleased to close this chapter with a hilariously heartwarming play that reminds the audience that it is better to face difficult times with others.

“Doing a play like this, taking advice and guidance from a young cast like this, all while taking a huge risk couldn’t be more satisfying,” Mish said.

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