Red Speedo: a Wild and High Testosterone Ride
Walking into the East Village New York Theatre Workshop, I was impressed by the set laid out in front of me. (Great job set designer – Riccardo Hernandez) Running along the whole length of the stage is one lane of a swimming pool with a glass wall facing us, and a back wall that reminded me of the YMCA in London Ontario that I used to go for daily 6am city swim practice.There was nothing better then diving into that pool for practice, and this play begins with a tall, very lean, and muscular swimmer climbing in and swimming one length and back. Alex Breaux portrays Ray, the gifted swimmer in the Red Speedo that this play is named after. Ray is hoping to qualify for the Olympic Swim team and Breaux certainly looks and moves like a true aquatic competitor. Perfectly cast, he embodies the eager and ambitious athlete impeccably who has devoted his entire life, body and soul, for this moment. And that may be one of his downfalls, the ‘soul’ part. He’s also not the brightest bulb in the room, especially when compared to his fast-talking and slick lawyer brother, Peter (a smooth and focused Lucas Caleb Rooney).
The first five minutes of Red Speedo is one exhausting non-stop monologue from the lawyer brother, who is now acting as Ray’s representative, to the coach who stands impatiently waiting for this man to finish his slick and sleazy diatribe. The coach (a fantastic Peter Jay Fernandez) then, and only then, is able to get a word in. And what a response it is. It’s a wonderfully slick opening for Luas Hnath’s Red Speedo. Setting the stage for a tale of power plays, ambition, ethics, morality, and lies, and we are challenged at every turn to keep up and figure out who is the moral one in this immoral story. Or is there just nuances of grey?
Lileana Blain-Cruz directs this piece with some guts and a lot of testosterone. The brothers’ relationship is etched in history or, is it mistrust? Or quite possibly, it is a simple big brother/little brother jealous rivalry. Then, when we think we have it figured out, an ex-girlfriend is thrown into the mix (a fascinating turn by Zoe Winters as Lydia), and alliances are tested and blurred even more. The need to win is overwhelming in this piece, from all sides, but who should be the winner is never quite clear.
Hnath gives us a few dazzling and fast paced scenes in this 80minute debate on ethical challenges in the competitive world of swimming (or any sport, for that matter). And all four actors handle their roles with amazing sincerity and emotional truthiness. I especially liked Breaux balancing the ambitious with the simple mindedness. The play does falter as it moves along towards the ending, losing its momentum and speed. The last scene felt like it was meant to be more powerful and deeply disturbing, but the pacing and the long ‘big moment’ is dragged out causing the play to stumble a bit and lose its way. Overall though, it’s a good solid stroke of work, and worth the visit to this East Village swimming pool.
Red Speedo by: Luas Hnath; director: Lileana Blain-Cruz; scenic design: Riccardo Hernandez; costume design: Montana Blanco; lighting design: Yi Zhao; sound design: Matt Tierney; stage manager: Terri K. Kohler.
Cast: Alex Breaux (Ray), Peter Jay Fernandez (Coach), Lucas Caleb Rooney (Peter), Zoe Winters (Lydia).