‘Red Speedo’ at The Studio Theatre by David Friscic

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FOUR STARS
The incendiary world of moral compromise, selfish justifications, and cut-throat competition where the “winner takes all” and “the end justifies the means” regardless of the cost is shown in the provocative world premiere of Lucas Hnath’s play Red Speedo, now running at The Studio Theatre. This extremely relevant production merits attention due to its’ controversial, specialized subject matter, its extremely compressed duration and the superb Scenic Design by Mimi Lien. Though there are some moments of monotony and some flatly-paced patches of scenes, some very interesting performances and a keen professional, technical sheen envelops the proceedings to keep one immersed for the eighty minutes of this Studio Lab Production.

Frank Boyd (Ray) and Harry A. Winter (Coach). Photo by Teddy Wolff.
Frank Boyd (Ray) and Harry A. Winter (Coach). Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Director Lila Neugebauer puts the actors through their paces with this startling and topical tale of the callow heel and athlete Ray (Frank Boyd) who is swimming in pre-Olympic trials and clamoring for commercial endorsements abetted by the manipulative, almost demonic and negative influence of a scheming lawyer, Peter (Thomas Jay Ryan), who also just happens to be the athlete’s brother. When performance-enhancing drugs are discovered in the locker room, accusations fly towards the ultra-competitive Ray by virtue of his association with the other accused athlete. Playwright Hnath portrays the character’s dilemmas when they are forced to choose between differing alternatives for efficiency and strength. Complications ensue when the athlete’s ex-girlfriend, Lydia (Laura C. Harris) is brought back into the picture and makes it quite clear that she has no intention of getting mixed up again with the doping athlete. Even deeper complexities arise when Ray’s swim Coach (Harry A. Winter) tries to keep a level head on his star athlete in the midst of a huge commercial endorsement in-the-offing from the Speedo Company. Bitter resentments from ex-girlfriend Lydia over feelings of abuse from Ray’s brother adds fuel to the emotional fires simmering onstage.

Numerous scenes are handled with skill by this tight ensemble cast of four under Neugebauer’s direction —especially a standout scene where Ray has a very vivid brawl with his brother (Kudos to Fights Choreography by Robb Hunter) and it is obvious what we are witnessing is this hollow athlete fighting to silence his anxiety-ridden conscience and guilt. Neugebauer is at her best showing the rueful and laconic humor that lies under the  pain of this play.

Frank Boyd’s portrayal of Ray is physically arresting (check out those abs!) and he has a nice stage presence but is just a bit too laid-back and monotone in delivery at times to warrant caring enough about his predicament. In the tradition of Paul Newman’s iconic film character Hud and Michael Caine’s heartless Alfie (of the film of the same name), Boyd shows the heartless soul of his character to the max and also adds a soupcon of silliness to his portrayal when he talks so seriously about his tattoo. Thomas Jay Ryan’s interpretation of the mean-spirited lawyer and brother often hits the mark but is too obvious and strident at times.  More successful is the natural and subtle playing of Harry A. Winter’s earnest and caring Coach and Laura C. Harris’s vulnerable Lydia.

Lighting by Dan Covey is absolutely stunning and casts pools of light over these characters as they attempt to communicate with one another on this knockout of  a set. Set Designer Lien captures completely the look of the locker room and showers from the tile on the wall to the stainless steel to the glaring lights overhead. Indeed, this may be the most accurately realized set I have ever seen in quite some time.

Frank Boyd (Ray) and Laura C. Harris (Lydia). Photo by Teddy Wolff.
Frank Boyd (Ray) and Laura C. Harris (Lydia). Photo by Teddy Wolff.

If you want to see a fresh and unique attempt at something different on the stage – do not miss The Studio Theatre’s eye-catching Red Speedo.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Red Speedo plays through October 13, 2013 at The Studio Theatre – 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.