Lucas Hnath is a remarkable young playwright whose last two works produced in Los Angeles—The Christians, at the Taper in 2015, and RED SPEEDO, now at The Road in a production directed by Joe Banno—present protagonists clashing with the institutions they’ve devoted their lives to. Pastor Paul in The Christians questions the existence of hell as a post-mortem destination, and in RED SPEEDO, a good angel (the coach) and bad angel (the manager/brother) fight for the soul of Ray, a young swimmer they’re both trying to guide to Olympic glory.
What concerns the coach and the manager—and what the swimmer apparently can’t live without—is the cache of performance-enhancing drugs found in the natatorium locker room. Ego, social responsibility, competitiveness, and tribalism all come to the fore in Hnath’s ingenious script, in which—as Lila Neugebauer, the director of the premiere production in Washington, D.C., explained—“doping is just the arena for a conversation about what constitutes fairness and the myth of equal opportunity.”
Hnath’s characters operate on a skein of desperation, none more so than Ray, a cipher who has no life or purpose outside of the swimsuit he wears throughout the play’s running time. Adam Peltier—with a physique better suited to the wrestling mat than a swimming pool—plays Ray with an eager-puppy blankness in a role that calls for a lanky, stoner vibe. Kimberly Alexander (as Lydia, Ray’s sports therapist, chemist, and ex-girlfriend), Jason E. Kelley (as Coach), and Coronado Romero (big brother Peter) are very strong as Ray’s manipulators, and the scenic and lighting design (by, respectively, Stephen Gifford and Derrick McDaniel) make brilliant use of the small stage.
RED SPEEDO, through July 1.
THE ROAD ON MAGNOLIA, 10747 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood.
Top: Kimberly Alexander and Adam Peltier.
Above: Peltier and Jason E. Kelley.
Below: Peltier and Coronado Romero. Photographs by Brian M. Cole.