The glowing blue waters of a the swimming pool dance entrancingly on stage at the New York Theater Workshop’s production of Lucas Hnath’s new play, Red Speedo. They remind us of the alluring gleam of fame, success, and redemption. Here, swimmer Ray (Alex Breaux) is not the only one whose success rides on a competitive victory, which might gain him entry onto the U.S. Olympic team. His win would also be a win for his brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney), a lawyer looking towards a lucrative career in sports management.
The realistic allure of the swimming pool, a truly memorable feat of design, is unfortunately not replicated in the rest of the play. Much of the dialogue feels stilted and impersonal, distracting us from the emotional stakes at hand. Perhaps because of this, the characters fall a bit flat. Ray is a breezy type with a go-with-the-flow approach to his career. He doesn’t ask for much from those around him—even his snack of baby carrots is handed to him—and he accepts the pressures mounted on him with little hesitation. Part of the play’s arc is about Ray finding his own voice in a doping scandal that threatens his career, but that voice is not sufficiently explored. Neither is Peter’s. His disregard for Ray’s emotional and physical well-being in pursuit of his own professional advancement has roots in self-disappointment, or with his perception of Ray as a slacker who doesn’t deserve triumph, but again these experiences are merely half-suggested. Posing as the moral arbiter of the scandal is Ray’s coach (Peter Jay Fernandez). But his character likewise offers little in terms of adding depth to the story, or even contrast to Peter’s actions. Instead, he seems to just monitor their actions; he’s more of an imposed watchman than someone whose beliefs actually influence Ray’s decisions.
Because of these flat characters and two-dimensional conflicts, the play’s action-packed climax doesn’t pay off. The audience is left with little to question, and even less to feel.