Review by Doug Iden
I’m sure it is not a coincidence that Red Speedo is playing at the Falcon during the Winter Olympics since the play searingly examines money, politics, fame and celebrity in Big Time Athletics.
Each of the four characters has their own demons, dreams, ambitions and secrets as Ray (Nic Pajic) tries to qualify as an Olympic breaststroker during the US qualifications. Ray is, by his own admission, not very smart and his only skill is swimming which increases the significance of a possible lucrative endorsement by a major sports clothing manufacturer (Speedo) which is being negotiated by his attorney brother Peter (Jared Earland). The only caveat tied to the endorsement is that Ray must qualify for the Olympics which, from his perspective, is his only chance to make it “big” and be financially solvent for life.
The play opens innocently enough in the locker room (set designed by Tyler Gabbard) with Peter talking to Coach (Rory Sheridan) about Ray’s prospects for the upcoming qualifications. Ray is onstage but seemingly unconnected except for the occasional quip which is both funny but revealing about his ongoing state of denial. The banter, however, is masking a serious conversation between Peter and Coach about a stash of performance-enhancing drugs found in the refrigerator which Coach assumes belongs to Ray. Peter vehemently denies the allegation and tries to blame another swimmer. Coach is determined to report the drug use but will he? Coach may be losing swimmers and patrons and sees Ray’s potential Olympic success as his own winning ticket to fame and fortune. Peter is trying to preserve the Speedo endorsement so he can make his own fortune, become a sports agent and leave the law firm he despises.
Ray is also a bit complicit when he, early on, admits that the drugs are his which is the secret to his swimming success. Can he be a champion on his ability alone? His source for the drugs had been an ex-girlfriend Lydia (Anna Hazard) who has lost her Physical Therapy license because of some illegal shenanigans by Peter who does not approve of Ray’s involvement with her. Ray tries to seduce Lydia into getting more drugs but will she? Can Ray mature enough to overcome the machinations of the other characters?
In addition to themes of money and fame, some other aspects begin to emerge. Several of the characters are driven only by their own self-interests instead of those of others, especially Ray. Ray is not a total innocent because of drugs, womanizing, etc. but is sufficient naïve and gullible to be easily manipulated by others. However, there is a lot of humor in the show, mostly related to Ray’s lack of education. An example is Ray’s spoonerism by saying psychotic instead of psychosomatic. The opening scene is important because it combines some whimsy (Ray’s banter and apparent boastful naivete) with the serious discussion about drugs. Director Tara Williams set up this scene well as we see Ray sitting down and facing the audience apparently oblivious of the serious discussion behind him between Peter and Coach. Except for the quips, Ray seems to be disembodied from the action.
The static set looks exactly like many locker rooms I’ve been in. The front of the set has tile used in many swimming pools and there is an ongoing video of Olympic swimming competition projected onto the back wall before the play starts. The costuming by Beth Bolling-Joos is appropriate: the lawyer looks like a lawyer, the coach is dressed in “coachy” stuff and Lydia is sufficiently bohemian. Throughout the play, Ray is only clad in swimming trunks but, towards the end, he puts on a Red Speed suit which is symbolic. Another ongoing gag is a large dragon tattoo on Ray’s back (designed by Heidi Mroz) and applied by Mason Williams) which Ray hopes will make him stand out while swimming.
This is a good play, well-acted by the participants while addressing some serious issues in sports (and in society at large) sprinkled with enough humor and enough ongoing surprise revelations to sustain the audience’s attention. This is a perfect piece for the Falcon: an intimate story told in an intimate theater. So, squeeze into your Speedo and breaststroke your way down to the Falcon for the remainder of the run of Red Speedo through February 26. The next production is Silent Sky running from April 1 through April 16.
Doug Iden is an avid, lifelong theater fan with an extensive collection of original cast albums. He also teaches class for OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute).