Review: RED SPEEDO

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

If manipulation were an Olympic sport, the characters in Red Speedo would medal. Theatre Exile's fascinating production of this drama by Lucas Hnath is about a swimmer with Olympic aspirations and a dependence on performance enhancing drugs. 

Ray (Brian Ratcliffe) is a none-too-bright athlete who has no skills other than swimming; he arrives onstage and poolside, chest shaved, in a red speedo, sporting a major tattoo.  Colin McIlvaine's impressive set gives us the corner of a regulation pool, muted light through long windows, and a faint whiff of chlorine.

Ratcliffe's performance as Ray hovers between a kind of blank, naive incomprehension and the wilyness of a naughty child—whose naughtiness extends to a criminal record involving manslaughter among an assortment of other bad behaviors. 

His brother Peter ( Keith Conallen), a rich lawyer in a good suit, has bailed him out of every stupid misstep until, as the play opens, we discover that the Coach (Leonard C. Haas), in bermuda shorts and a whistle, has found a cooler full of performance enhancing drugs.  Peter unleashes a stunning monologue of vile lawyering until Coach shuts him down with a high-toned speech about "ethical responsibility."  One of the many remarkable aspects of Conallen's performance is that we can see Peter's mind calculate the pros and cons of any sudden setback.

It will emerge that Peter has arranged a very lucrative sportsmodel deal  for Ray with Speedo, a deal likely to make everybody rich and famous-- unless , of course, it is crushed by a doping scandal. But as Ray, no slouch in the  betraying department himself, says, "I don't care if they're making fun of me because if I have money I can be a real person." Add to this swamp of greed, desperation and ambition, Ray's ex-girlfriend Lydia (Jaylene Clark Owens), a sports therapist who was his illegal pharmaceutical connection.

Red Speedo is not really about sports doping but it's about these characters whose craven manipulations create a culture of moral compromise, consoling themselves with this amoral credo: "When you do what's best for you, everyone benefits."

Deborah Block's direction specializes in tense and excellent pauses, and J. Alex Cordaro has  choreographed one of the most realistic and terrifying  onstage fights I've ever seen.  Conallen and Ratcliffe pull it off dramatically as well as theatrically, making the fight deepen their character portraits. It seems a shame that music distracts from the appalling and ambiguous conclusion.

=====================

Theatre Exile at Studio X, 1340 S. 13th Street. Through Nov. 23. Tickets $25-40. Information: www.theatreexile.org or (215) 218-4022.

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments