Wednesday, December 4, 2013

RED SPEEDO at Studio Theatre: The Reaction

Lucas Hnath's play Red Speedo premiered in a lab production at Studio Theatre in Washington, DC earlier this fall, directed by Lila Neugebauer. Red Speedo is the story of Ray, a swimmer on the verge of making the Olympic swimming team, which would bring fame and sponsorships and a completely new life. When doping drugs are found in his team's refrigerator, Ray is faced with the his chance at the American dream and the question of how to deal with the ethics of being a professional athlete.

Studio's Lab "presents stripped-down productions of world premiere plays, giving playwrights in residence the ability to work in an environment of experimentation, collaboration, and discovery," according to their website. Neugebauer explained that she approached this process much like she would any other new play process; she and Hnath held a short workshop to develop the piece about a month before they went into rehearsal, and several significant changes were made prior to the start of the official rehearsal period.

In Neugebauer's eyes, Red Speedo "utilizes pro-swimming and doping as an arena and vehicle for an investigation into what constitutes fairness."As an audience member, this was clear in this new play and the play was not discreet about the message and issues it was trying to start a conversation about. What was unique about the play, in my opinion, was that it took a common issue: that of fairness and ethical behavior, but put it in a new situation that is not commonly shown in theatre or other forms of entertainment.

Critical reviews of Red Speedo also were well tuned into the ethical questions that the play posed. Peter Marks, of The Washington Post wrote "Maybe “Red Speedo” should be subtitled “Nobody’s Clean,” because the coach’s threat to go to the sport’s governing authority with his discovery sets off a cascade of unsavory revelations about each of the characters." This asks the question of whether or not there might have been too many ethical questions posed by the play, and none of the characters served as the moral center.

Hnath chose a very timely subject for his play because "anyone with even a passing acquaintance with sports these days is aware of the investigations into which superstar is using what drugs to achieve better results. So Hnath has the news cycle on his side, and in his conception of Ray, a compelling idea of the modern American athlete as a soulless commodity with a single sellable skill,"Marks wrote.

Audience members were able to connect with the material. Wesley Miller, an audience member I spoke with after the show said that Red Speedo "was more about the relativity of morals because we all do bad things and good things, and you saw this in every character."

On Twitter, audience members tweeted about the scenery and the true smell of chlorine in the theatre rather than discussing the content of the show itself.
For Neugebauer, one of the challenges of bringing this new piece to life was how "viscerally and technically unrelenting Hnath's work is for the audience and the actors, despite how physically static."As the director, it was exciting for her to watch something that was technically and physically difficult, because it was a genuine obstacle for the cast. 

Red Speedo's message was very clear to audience members and critics alike, and although people were divided in their reactions (as is with any piece of theatre), the play has a strong message to send to everyone about the difficulties of doing the right thing.

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