14-Lucas Caleb Rooney and Alex Breaux in RED SPEEDO at New York Theatre Workshop, Photo by Joan Marcus





by JK Clarke


For a total dummy, Ray is no dummy. The Olympics-level competitive swimmer and protagonist of Red Speedo, Lucas Hnath’s new play now running (through April 3) at New York Theatre Workshop, Ray is a moron who dwells in pseudoscience and risks his well-being and career (even going so far as to ingest the wrong—really, really wrong—drugs because he can’t be bothered to google the name on the medicine bottle (he stole) in order to win. Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz, Red Speedo is not so simple, however. Ray (played in a fascinatingly complex style by Alex Breau) is dangerously calculating and methodical, mostly likely borne out of competitive smarts. And while the other characters in the play—his coach, his brother and his girlfriend—merely see the simpleton in him, they are schemers too. And therein lies the rub . . . and the crux of the play.


7-Peter Jay Fernandez, Alex Breaux, and Lucas Caleb Rooney in RED SPEEDO at New York Theatre Workshop, Photo by Joan Marcus


When we meet Ray he’s sitting on the edge of (and dangling his feet in) an Olympic length pool . . . on stage. Scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez has, with the utmost audacity and aplomb, built a swimming pool on stage, edged in plexiglass so that we can watch ridiculously muscular (Breaux has an à propos swimmer’s build) red-Speedo’d Ray (with a gargantuan, ridiculous and unintentionally abstract tattoo on his back, and running down his leg, that’s supposed to be a “serpent” . . . his trademark) working out. The edge of the pool makes up the rest of the stage, with a tile wall rising up behind it, light (Yi Zhao) reflecting, glimmering, and swaying on it for the production’s entire 80 minutes. At the play’s open Ray’s coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) and his attorney/manager/brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney) are arguing (in Hnath’s rat-a-tat staccato dialog) about some performance-enhancing drugs that have been found in the team’s locker room, ostensibly belonging to another, less accomplished swimmer. As Peter is on the verge of closing an endorsement deal with Speedo for Ray (should he qualify for the Olympics), he doesn’t want Coach(Peter Jay Fernandez) to report the drugs to the police, lest Ray be found guilty by association and lose the deal. Coach’s inclination is to be honest and straightforward, fearing it might come out that he covered up the illegal activity. In a most lawyerly fashion, Peter manipulates and blackmails Coach into suppressing the information and flushing the drugs down the toilet. But once Coach leaves the room (following one of the regular scene breaks signaled by jarring, high-decibel air horn blasts) Ray tells Peter that the drugs were his and he needs them to qualify for the Olympics (and procure his endorsement).


5-Alex Breaux in RED SPEEDO at New York Theatre Workshop, Photo by Joan Marcus


The rest of the play addresses each character’s need and/or willingness to bend morally and ethically in order that they might fulfill their own needs and desires. Ray’s erstwhile girlfriend, Lydia (Zoë Winters), who’d been his drug supplier, is drawn into the mix and she, too, manipulates and lies her way into personal advantage. No one here is guilt-free. Far from it, in fact.


The central theme seems to be that it’s okay for success to come at the cost of one’s integrity: “And don’t I deserve a chance, and don’t I—Don’t I deserve—isn’t that the American thing—?” Ray asks. Probably not. But the thing is, we live in a society where everyone wants to be famous, wants to be on TV and wants to be rich, even though logic dictates that it’s impossible for everyone to achieve all that. What Red Speedo demonstrates is that it’s not just unethical athletes—the Barry Bondses, the Lance Armstrongs, or the Alex Rodriguezes—who are cheating for personal gain. Instead, it’s the entire community around them that participates, benefits and enables this sort of behavior. It’s all of us, and Red Speedo splashes that truth on the whole audience.


Red Speedo. Through April 3 at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and The Bowery). www.nytw.org


Photos by Joan Marcus