It can be a challenge playing what Nancy Gasper termed the “designated adult” in a play centered on teenagers and their struggles for identity.
In Gasper’s case, the Cheney resident is playing two adults in the Interplayers Theatre production of “Speech & Debate,” a drama based on the 2005 sex scandal surrounding former Spokane Mayor Jim West. West, who passed away in 2006 from cancer, was a staunch conservative Republican who as a state Legislator pushed an anti-gay agenda, only to later be accused during his term as mayor of frequenting gay-porn websites and chat rooms in search of underage male companionship.
West was removed from office in a recall vote. One person following the scandal closely was Pennsylvania playwright Stephen Karam, who instead of dramatizing the experience directly, used it as background to write “Speech & Debate” in 2006.
According to an Interplayers news release, the play centers around three “high school misfits” in Salem, Ore. The trio is “thrown together in a speech class” where “Howie (openly gay), Solomon (nerdy) and Diwata (a musically-obsessed young frump) debate how and whether to ‘out’ a teacher who preys on his male students.”
Enter Gasper, who in her first role as a teacher is the adviser for the student newspaper and at one point tries to dissuade the students from their course of action in outing the teacher. She also plays a reporter, who is looking for a new forward to her successful book about adolescents and is attracted to the situation happening in Salem.
“I’ve always enjoyed (playing) multiple characters,” she said.
“Speech & Debate” is directed by Spokane native Marilyn Langbehn, who was recently named artistic director of Contra Costa Civic Theatre in Contra Costa, Calif. and is beginning her 10th season as marketing and public relations manager for California Shakespeare Theater in Berkeley. Langbehn is a veteran of the Spokane stage, having directed Interplayers’ critically acclaimed West Coast premiere of David Mamet’s “Race,” receiving a “Best Director” nod from The Inlander in 2011.
Originally from Utah, Gasper moved to Cheney about 14 years ago and is the owner of The View Talent Agency in Spokane. She’s also a veteran of local stages, receiving a Spokie award in 2009 for her role in Interplayers’ “Eleemosynary” and recently playing Mercedes in Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Married with a family, she also does improv at Spokane’s Blue Door Theatre.
While “Speech & Debate” centers around some of the issues portrayed in the Jim West saga, Gasper said it’s really about the teens themselves.
“It’s about their struggles,” she said. “They don’t have friends and they need friends and they find friends in a weird way.”
“Speech & Debate” runs Feb. 28 through March 16, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturdays and 2 p.m. matinees Sundays March 3 and 10 and Saturdays March 9 and 16. Ticket information is available at 455-7529 or online at TicketsWest.com.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.