Your nostrils will be met by the distinct odors particular to swimming pools as you enter the New York Theatre Workshop production of RED SPEEDO – a provocative new play by Lucas Hnath which has been swimming upstream since 2013 in various stages of development. It still needs work.
There is an aquarium-like lap pool installed with a see through wall along the length of the stage where Ray (Alex Breaux) is training for the Olympic trials under the guidance of his longstanding Coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) that must have cost a pretty penny.
There is a towering tile wall, a clock, a bench and towels – which are necessary to absorb the water that exits the pool when Ray does his initial underwater lap and to clean up what follows. Scenic design: Riccardo Hernandez.
Mr. Breaux has a finely tuned swimmer’s physique not unlike that of Michael Phelps. And a large tattoo on his back of a sea serpent (it is described as such) that runs down one leg. It looks fake. It is distracting.
I went back to my review of THE REAL THING and discovered that I described Mr. Breaux as speaking as though he had marbles in his mouth. This has improved. The marbles have been replaced with healthy carrots as he chews and munches his way through the play.
Despite this we begin to feel for this guy who is literally swimming for his life – surrounded by three barracudas that want and/or need something from him. He isn’t the brightest person – reminding me of a cross between Mortimer Snerd and Tommy Smothers. He is personable and he looks swell in his red speedo. A naïve rube that these three vultures want to take advantage of. And they do.
In a series of short vignettes (which have a startling and annoying sounding bull horn announce beginning and ending of each) in this 90 minute no intermission play we meet them. His ex-girlfriend Lydia (Zoe Winters) who dumped him. She really is a word that rhymes with runt. One wonders what he sees in her as he innocently admits that all women like him. Why her?
She has legal problems. Drugs. She’s a supplier. This brings her into contact with Ray and his brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney) who is a lawyer. Peter has a monetary stake in Ray and is brokering a deal – an endorsement package between Ray and Speedo – IF Ray indeed gets on the Olympic team – and wins etc etc…
BUT Ray has been taking performance enhancing drugs from Lydia which were discovered by his coach. IF this is publicized there would be a scandal and they would all lose everything. The real question that the playwright deals with is how far each character is willing to go to win. Is it worth it?
At the play’s brutal conclusion you may wonder so and if that pool was really necessary. What Ray really needs is a lifeguard.
Under the unimpressive direction of Lileana Blain-Cruz the play jerks along. Sometimes the dialogue is so rapid fire (do people speak like this?) one tunes out. It is only when they slow down and connect with each other that we begin to care both for Ray and Peter (who gives the best performance of the evening).
It’s not about the swimming. It’s about the money. Through March 27th
Top Photo: Aaron Lenhart
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