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Red Speedo

Lucas Hnath’s latest play puts a swimming pool on stage as an Olympic hopeful wrestles with an accusation of doping.

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Lucas Caleb Rooney and Alex Breaux in a scene from “Red Speedo” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Lucas Caleb Rooney and Alex Breaux in a scene from “Red Speedo” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Playwright Lucas Hnath’s Isaac’s Eye turned the Ensemble Studio Theatre into a lecture hall. His A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney made the theater at the Soho Rep into a Hollywood executive office. The Christians at Playwrights Horizons put the audience in the front of a church. Now in the New York premiere of Red Speedo, at New York Theatre Workshop, the audience is at an indoor swimming pool at a gym with the first lane of blue water stretching across the entire front of the stage. (The protagonist actually goes for a swim just before the play begins.) As directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Red Speedo is about the price of winning, the cost of professional sports, and the betrayals that go along with the ride.

Ray (played by Alex Breaux, in tiptop shape, dressed only in a red speedo throughout the play) is an Olympic swimming hopeful on the eve before the qualifying trials. A stash of performance enhancing drugs has been found in the club refrigerator. Ray has told his coach that he has heard that they belong to Tad, another swimmer, but this is not true. However, Ray’s brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney), a lawyer and also his legal representative, confronts Coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) as to what he wants him to do about it, as a hint of scandal will ruin the endorsement deal he has going with Speedo for Ray if he is chosen for the Olympics. Coach is insulted that someone would impugn his integrity over a matter of morality and attempt to bribe him not to do the right thing.

In five short, vigorous scenes, the situation becomes more and more tense as Ray, Peter, Coach and later Lydia (Zoë Winters), Ray’s ex-girlfriend, a physical therapist who has lost her license over a drug case of her own, deal with the twists, turns and betrayals that engulf them. Peter attempts to blackmail Coach by saying he will take Ray to another gym; Lydia doesn’t want to have anything to do with Ray as his brother meddled in her case and made things worse. And what of Ray?

Alex Breaux and Peter Jay Fernandez in a scene from “Red Speedo” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Alex Breaux and Peter Jay Fernandez in a scene from “Red Speedo” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

As Ray, Breaux (who is on stage throughout) gives a remarkable performance as an inarticulate young man with a low I.Q. but with one skill at which he excels and a knack for self-preservation. Personally he doesn’t see anything wrong with performance enhancing drugs, as for him it is the same as “affirmative action,” leveling the playing field for the poor and disenfranchised, and isn’t that the “American thing?”

The play is made up of a series of six confrontations in which the dialogue is delivered like bullets flying back and forth. While the story is engrossing, the individual conversations all go on a bit too long, and get tiresome before they are each over. Then the next one takes us by surprise all over again. However, what is unique about the play is that the athlete in question eventually is seen to be a monster. His sense of entitlement has been overwhelming: he has expected his lawyer brother to get him out of trouble each time he got himself into another mess, and his brother has been supporting him all these years, paying all of his bills but with a family of his own to provide for. But worst of all is Ray’s absence of a sense of morality in a culture where winning is everything. He is willing to kill for fame and fortune and whoever he destroys along the way does not concern him.

Blain-Cruz’s direction is as cool as the blue water and the grey tile walls of Riccardo Hernandez’s set design. Rooney is a slick portrait of the devious lawyer who can always think up another way out. Fernandez as Coach is a man of probity just as easily corrupted by the high stakes, while Winters as the ex-girlfriend is all fury at the jam that have resulted from her actions. All are dressed in Montana Blanco’s costumes which are exactly right for the world of lawyers and athletes. Most in evidence is Matt Tierney’s sound design as the loud air horn used to start a race is sounded to begin each new scene. The subtle lighting design by Yi Zhao shifts so that at times the water seems to sparkle more than at others.

Red Speedo is another reinvention of theater by playwright Lucas Hnath. While the dialogue is delivered in an explosive style, it could use a bit of trimming. Nevertheless, with a cast headed by Alex Breaux who is totally convincing with the body of an Olympic athlete, the play has a powerful, brutal ending which strips off the illusion of sports as anything but a big, corrupting business.

Red Speedo (extended through April 3, 2016)

New York Theatre Workshop

79 E. 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-460-5475 or visit http://www.NYTW.org

Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (515 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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