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.
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.
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.