A 25-meter long, chlorine-scented pool dominates the stage of the New York Theater Workshop, currently staging Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo.” It is the tantamount center of everyone’s attention and simultaneously the least addressed. “Red Speedo” is about the complications that arise when an Olympics-bound swimmer, his lawyer brother and prosecuted ex-lover — by the brother — find themselves in a vicious web of lies revolving around a bag full of performance enhancing drugs.
Hnath tells a story about people who commit fraud in the earnest belief that what they are doing is right, and when the wanted outcome happens naturally, it erases the effort of the fraud. “Red Speedo” is a tragedy written like a comedy of errors. There is no triumph, even in the greatest glory imaginable, and there is even dark humor in the foolishness of great men. The dialogue is honest, a meandering of thoughts trying to be as genuine as possible, but it’s hilarious. Hnath makes the dialogue seem effortless.
Unfortunately, Hnath’s world-building seldom has a sense of space. There are bound to be many arguments about his use of space and the symbolic importance behind each of the props on stage; however, Hnath fails to take successful artistic control. As talented as the technical crew is, this play does not make creative use of its space, but rather a metaphorical one, especially in sense of tones and colors, such as the perpetuation of the color red.
Alex Breaux is the convincing monolith of physical excellence and simple-minded innocence, while Peter Jay Fernandez’s performance is skillful in depicting his conniving, silver-tongued and frequently composed character. They are foils to each other’s circumstances: one is so desperate to escape poverty that he takes drastic measures and the other is overly possessive of his wealth and success. The two characters exist perpetually in these immense anxieties. It’s a four-person ensemble, but these two harbor the enmity of the madness of excellence, the good life and the even-more-good life.
The play is all a fraction of a thought away from genius. “Red Speedo” will take your breath away in its plunge underwater.
Red Speedo is playing at New York Theater Workshop, 39 E. 4th St. through April 3.
A version of this article appeared in the March 28 print edition. Email Nikolas Reda-Castelao at [email protected]