Red Speedo: Class Athletics

Studio Theater in Washington, DC is showing, Red Speedo, a play that sparked thoughts of David Mamet’s best works. Like Mamet, the play looks at people from the lower rungs of American society who are trying to reach the American Dream. They have limited talents and few assets and need to maximize their chances at success in the one shot that they have.

The title character has that shot in the swimming pool. He is attempting to qualify as an Olympic swimmer and he knows the limits of his talents. He has chosen to take a path of performance enhancing drugs that raises questions about his morals and his talents. What will his brother, who has been his sponsor, and representative think about his choices and what will he do? More significantly, he has a coach who is struggling to keep the swim club financially afloat. Will he discover this indiscretion? The lead’s love interest also has an intriguing back history and perspective to be taken into account as well.

We’ve had many of these athletes who has crossed this line, beginning with the Oakland A’s Bash Brothers to San Francisco Giants Barry Bonds. Most notably were cultural icons, like cyclist and philanthropist Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. All deny the activity, worse they fight their accusers to the point of ruining them financially and their reputations, all while knowing that they did take the drugs.

What’s more compelling about the job that playwright Lucas Hnath and director Lila Neugebauer have done is that they have shown how the thinking of the athlete works to justify the taking of the drugs. They have shown how others surrounding the athlete come to terms with tacitly and knowingly accepting this behavior.

The set was sharp, you could smell chlorine when you walked up the staircase. The performances by Frank Boyd, Harry Winter, and Laura C. Harris were strong. Of particularly note was Thomas Jay Ryan, as the older brother.

What made this play powerful was the inclusion of today’s class system in the U.S. Though warped, the older brother’s disquisition on the need to be rich in the US was worth the price of admission.

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