Saturday, February 27, 2016

Red Speedo **

Now in previews at New York Theatre Workshop, this new play by Lucas Hnath (The Christians) addresses several issues that arise from our obsession with competitive sports, such as the commodification of athletes, the cultivation of athletic prowess to the exclusion of all else, the temptation of performance enhancing drugs and the relentless pursuit of self-interest regardless of harm to others. A strong case of pathological sibling codependency overlays the other issues. Ray (Alex Breaux) is an Olympic hopeful swimmer, whose success has come at the cost of intellectual and emotional stuntedness. His brightest idea has been to get a hideous tattoo on his back to make him more easily recognizable by television viewers. He has a great entrance in the titular swimwear, plunging into the one-lane pool with a plexiglas wall that fills the front of the set. His sleazy older brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney) is also his attorney and his would-be agent. When a stash of drugs is found in the team locker room’s refrigerator, Peter tries to persuade Coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) to look the other way until after the Olympic trials so that Jay’s tentative endorsement contract with Speedo will not be threatened. Jay’s ex-girlfriend Lydia (Zoe Winters) has lost her sports therapy license, partially due to some unethical behavior by Peter. Many plots and counterplots collide. Unfortunately the play sheds far more heat than light. The lack of a sympathetic character is not necessarily fatal to my interest in a play, but it certainly doesn’t help that there is no one to root for here. Breaux looks the part and is quite convincing as Jay. Rooney’s portrayal of Peter has only one note — extremely annoying. Fernandez is OK as the coach. Winters doesn’t get much chance to make an impression. Kudos to set designer Riccardo Hernandez for a convincing set. Boos to sound designer Matt Tierney for the loud horn blasts between scenes. Fight coordinator Thomas Schall has done wonders — rarely have I seen onstage brawling that was so realistic. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz does her best with an unsatisfactory ending. Running time: 80 minutes; no intermission. NOTE: I do not recommend seats in the first two rows, because you are below the level of the pool deck.

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