WHEN WINNING IS ALL YOU’VE BEEN TRAINED FOR, AND YOUR BODY IS YOUR ONLY ASSET, YOU HAVE VERY FEW CHOICES. THIS OLYMPIC POOL IS DANGEROUS AND A MUST SEE
The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in South Korea this month, and you can get an early glimpse of the pressures of the athletes competition in Lucas Hnath (The Christians) new play RED SPEEDO. The West Coast premiere and the pool is open at the Margaret Lesher Theatre through February 24th. Diou Gupta’s clever concrete swim club set design includes a pool at the Center REP smart production of this new play. “Red Speedo is a tough, new American play and an utterly compelling one,” says Michael Butler, Artistic Director of Center REP. “Playwright Lucas Hnath has concocted a high-pressure drama with flashes of humor that is as nail-biting as any high-stakes swim race. I’m very pleased that Center Rep got the rights to produce the West Coast premiere.”
Directed by Center Rep alumni, Marcus Potter, Producing Artistic Director of New York Rep and Interim Artistic Director of Theatre Aspen, foresees a lot for Bay Area audiences to be excited about in Red Speedo. “For one thing, the entire play takes place around this pool, which creates a really interesting world,” Potter says. “And the play is funny. It’s so twisted and dark, but the dialogue is downright funny. Lucas Hnath explores these crazy opposing arguments. He takes the argument that we’re afraid to argue for and he pushes it as far as he can go. Sometimes it’s just absurd.” The gifted Potter began his career in theatre in the Young REP Theatre program, and is one of the many success stories at the Walnut Creek arts center to move to NY and direct professionally.
Director Potter’s work is a fast paced rendering of a difficult text, one that reads nearly like fast talking millennials, but the drama plays like a thriller onstage. Ray, played by the splendid Max Carpenter is a highly promising but a valley boy swimmer with just a public high school education. He gets involved in a doping scandal that from the sport’s perspective could result a false win for the Gold.
Mamet comes to mind when listening to the fast talking overlapping dialogue from the four stunning actors on stage. How to keep Ray out of trouble, and at what cost, is the arc of this dark comedy/drama. The three include Ray’s lawyer and his bossy brother, his former sports therapist and angry ex-girlfriend, and his focused coach. They are authentically played, at breakneck pace, by Gabriel Marin, Rosie Hallett, and Michael Asberry as the every-man coach. Potter is brilliant with his timing of the Olympic babble that is truly fascinating. Hnath’s 80 min script dives immediately into the action.
The pool is is authentic and gleaming down stage in front of the playing space. You never doubt, even from the earliest moments, that you are immersed in the world of professional swimming. Potter's direction of RED SPEEDO gives a new perspective on Olympian poolside drama. The language of Hnath's story is driven and fierce, the madness of this play shows a perspective on power that is dark and human. It plays off the very different worlds of the four characters like a dysfunctional family looking for reasons and answers. Ray's brother, Peter, and his coach are dependent on the swimmers’ success. Hnath tackles them with the same confidence he did with the Bible in his playThe Christians that was staged at the SF Playhouse last season.
Ray’s feels he is the victim: a drug scandal will end his place on the Olympic team. The swimmers main goal is an endorsement with Speedo and his hope for a normal American dream. Ray’s physicality and simple ego keeps him excited about simple goals including his new RED SPEEDO. He wears the icon garment throughout the play and is just about naked the whole 80 minutes and as gorgeous as any blond haired Greek god. Ray is a swanky Matthew McConaughey, or Ryan Lochte with a body like Michael Phelps. Ray’s inner pain shows as he paces the pool, as swimmers do, the look on his face suggests he’s not just emptying his head of actual thoughts. It takes some very superb acting to get that kind of “air head feel” and Carpenter gets it just right.
Congratulations to scenic designer Dipu Gupta, the concrete world he crafted is like a cathedral of lost hope and a magnificent view into the world of Olympian power. The slick lighting by Kurt Landisman bounces off of the glimmering water in the pool and the huge back wall lit to reflect the heated moods in this story. The vast sound design by Cliff Caruthers and the finesse costumes by Christina Dinkel including the tight Red Speedo that is all Carpenter wears. Stage manager Megan McClintock keeps the madness moving. Fight director Dave Maier brings passion and drama to the final moments of two brothers real love for each other, and director Potter is effective using the pool as the weapon. RED SPEEDO is twisted and dark, but the dialogue is downright high speed poetry and non stop perfect. Next up at the CenterRep is SHIRLEY VALENTINE directed by George Maguire that opens March 30th. But in the meantime the pool is open at the Dean Lesher Center for the Arts, bring your own towel.
Center Repertory Company Presents
By Lucas Hnath, Directed by Markus Potter
Must Close: Feb. 24
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 85 minutes,
Tickets: $40-$56; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org
Photo's by www.kevinberne.com