What the critics are saying:

Splashy "Speedo" a poolside triumph

By Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle

Posted: 02/01/18 1:08 PM PDT

Photo by kevinberne.com

The problem with American capitalism isn’t merely that it esteems self-interest above all else. As depicted in Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo,” it also makes us think we can and should reach the pinnacle of human achievement, whatever the cost. In a supposed meritocracy, if you don’t come out on top in your goals as a lawyer or an Olympic swimmer, whom can you blame but yourself?.

Those are the respective trades of brothers Peter (Gabriel Marin) and Ray (Max Carpenter) in the Center Rep Bay Area premiere, which I saw Wednesday, Jan. 31. The smart, pulpy new play, equal parts comedy, drama and thriller, opens with a dazzling display of professional commitment in a poolside powwow.

Peter is trying to persuade Coach (Michael Asberry) to breach professional ethics and keep quiet about the discovery of performance-enhancing drugs in the swim team’s communal fridge. Lead swimmer Ray might get tainted by association, jeoparding his lucrative sponsorship deal with Speedo and Peter’s cut of it.

Peter’s skill isn’t so much watertight argument or sparkling legal oratory. His monologue is peppered with fragments, tangents, placeholders that stall while he cobbles together his next scrap of thought, ideas launched with gusto but then promptly left dangling.

What staggers, rather, is Peter’s total abasement before his quest. This is a man who will say anything, everything, who pawned his last shred of dignity long ago. Yet Marin’s masterful performance — worth the price of admission in the first few minutes alone — shades in a whole life within that single, desperate bit of wheedling. He is alternately self-congratulatory, then boyishly lost in his own terror of squandered opportunity, then tentatively threatening, as if any counter might expose his gambit as bluff.

Still, Peter and everyone else in “Red Speedo,” directed incisively by Markus Potter, are unshakably, congenitally convinced that they deserve to win. Ray and Coach crave the Olympic gold. Peter yearns for enough money to send his daughter not to a “free school” but to “an expensive school.” Ray’s ex Lydia (Rosie Hallett) knows she ought to have won a legal battle over her license as a sports therapist, despite the fact that she knowingly broke the law for profit.

Ray’s inane lines are funny just on the page — there’s practically a song in his reliance on the word “like” — but Carpenter adds to Ray (who wears only the swimsuit of the title for the whole show) a total ownership of the character’s vacuity. He delivers his drivel like it’s the surest, most important language ever spoken. Hallett is so shifty as Lydia that you expect fresh schemes to tumble out of the pockets of her hoodie. If Asberry can be wooden as Coach, so often reverting to an arms-akimbo stance that the move looks mechanical, his character’s also underwritten. Hnath makes him stand as a pillar of integrity and compassion without the moral qualms that make the rest of the quartet so dynamic.

Those stiff moments pass quickly, though. It’s not a spoiler to say that all the characters in “Red Speedo” win, because they win what they don’t really want. The cost to enter the race, to play the game, makes winning worthless — as cheap as a novelty piece of bright-colored spandex.


Review: Red Speedo will keep surprising you...

By Sam Hurwitt, Correspondent

Posted: 02/02/18 1:51:00 PM PDT

Max Carpenter plays a star swimmer and Gabriel Main is his protective brother in "Red Speedo" Photo by www.kevinberne.com

There’s something delightfully weird about “Red Speedo,” the Obie Award-winning 2016 play by Lucas Hnath that Center Repertory Company is performing at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts in its West Coast premiere.

Last year Bay Area audiences were treated to Hnath’s idiosyncratic takes on evangelical Christianity in “The Christians” at San Francisco Playhouse and Isaac Newton in “Isaac’s Eye” at Custom Made Theatre Co., but “Red Speedo” in particular continually confounds expectations.

To say that it’s a drama about a professional swimmer trying to qualify for the Olympics doesn’t begin to capture the impact of the piece, even when you mix in the potential of a sweet spokesmodel deal with Speedo and trying to steer clear of a doping scandal. All that has the makings of an earnest, topical drama, but this is something else.

The play opens with a comically puzzling speech in which Peter (dizzyingly and desperately loquacious Gabriel Marin) rhapsodizes at length about the virtues and successes of swimmer Ray (hilariously plain-spoken and seemingly dimwitted Max Carpenter) to someone who we soon learn is Ray’s own coach (unreadably reserved Michael J. Asberry), who presumably already knows everything Peter’s telling him about Ray.

What’s so funny about it is how long it takes for the viewer to find out who Peter is or why he’s giving this interminable pitch. We finally learn Peter is Ray’s brother and self-appointed lawyer and agent trying to railroad everybody with his own ideas of what’s best for the swimmer’s career. There are a lot of these masterful speeches in “Red Speedo,” but nobody takes all the air in the room and fills it to bursting with words quite like Peter does.

It all takes place beside an indoor pool, represented in Dipu Gupta’s spacious set by a thin strip of water up front with blue light spilling out from below onto the white tile walls. (The lighting design is by Kurt Landisman.) Ray, who has nothing in his life and no skills besides swimming, is always there next to the pool, dressed in the titular red Speedo. That in itself presents quite a contrast with Peter’s lawyerly suit in Christina Dinkel’s costumes.

Rosie Hallett’s Lydia is a fascinating character in herself. Ray’s former sports therapist and ex-girlfriend, Lydia has been through hell but regards her plight with seeming equanimity and rueful amusement, and her wary perplexity at what Ray wants from her electrifies their scene together.

In a marvelously compelling staging by director Markus Potter, the play is full of surprises that unfold in a roundabout way that doesn’t feel at all gimmicky. A lot of it centers on how Ray, despite his amusing inarticulateness and tendency to blurt out unwise disclosures, has a lot on his mind that he’s not saying. For all the twists that trickle out through evasiveness and misdirection, others hit suddenly, such as a graphic burst of violence choreographed by fight director Dave Maier.

Ultimately the play is about a whole lot more than athletic competition or performance enhancers or any other worthy topic that comes up. It’s about ethics and family and the ways people use each other for their own ends. The swimming connection isn’t incidental — there’s a lot of surprisingly interesting talk about the sport along the way — but these waters run a whole lot deeper than that.


"...thought-provoking Red Speedo

By Sally Hogarty, Correspondent

Posted: 02/03/18 7:37:00 AM PDT

Max Carpenter stars as Ray, an Olympic hopeful, in Center Repertory’s “Red Speedo,” continuing through Feb. 24 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center. Courtesy *www.kevinberne.com *

While America’s athletes prepare for the Winter Olympics, Center Repertory presents a timely, thought-provoking play about the behind-the-scene pressures athletes endure while preparing for such world-class competition.

Although Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo” deals with a swimmer training for Summer Olympic trials, the family conflicts, lure of lucrative endorsements and pressure to be the best are still the same.

Hnath has crafted a high-pressure drama interlaced with humor that is spell-binding. His language alone is reason enough to see this show. Fortunately, director Markus Potter has found a cast more than capable of delivering his staccato verbal barrages with flair.

Here, Ray (perfectly cast Max Carpenter) spends eight hours a day training to get to the trials, which he is expected to win. The training has made it impossible for him to get an education or work. Financially strapped, he often sleeps in his car and relies on his brother Peter (brilliantly played by Gabriel Marin) for money. Peter, a lawyer, hopes to leave his law firm and manage Ray’s career and has brokered a deal with Speedo that could set them both up financially for life. All Ray has to do is get on the team and perform well at the Olympics. Ray’s coach (wonderfully portrayed by Michael Asberry) also has a stake in Ray’s performance and is furious when he learns Peter wants to move Ray to another team when performance-enhancing drugs are found in the coach’s office. Ray’s former girlfriend and disgraced athletic trainer (nicely done by Rosie Hallett) adds to the tension.

Setting the stage for the action is Dipu Gupta’s indoor pool, complete with a mini pool filled with water and enhanced by Kurt Landisman’s lighting. Christina Dinkel did the costumes. I’m not sure if the elaborate tattoo across Ray’s back and thigh are considered costumes but kudos to whoever designed the intricate sea serpent.

Many of you may remember Gabe Marin from previous Center Rep shows. He now lives in New York and, thankfully, Center Rep Artistic Director Michael Butler was able to entice him back with “Red Speedo” so that we can enjoy his talents once again.


The Winter Olympics begin this month at Center REP with two borthers and a race for the Gold. Red Speedo is thrilling.

By Vince Mediaa

Posted: 02/02/18


The 2018 Winter Olympics begin in South Korea this month, and you can get an early glimpse of the pressures of the athletes competition in Lucas Hnath (The Christians) new play RED SPEEDO. The West Coast premiere and the pool is open at the Margaret Lesher Theatre through February 24th. Diou Gupta’s clever concrete swim club set design includes a pool at the Center REP smart production of this new play. “Red Speedo is a tough, new American play and an utterly compelling one,” says Michael Butler, Artistic Director of Center REP. “Playwright Lucas Hnath has concocted a high-pressure drama with flashes of humor that is as nail-biting as any high-stakes swim race. I’m very pleased that Center Rep got the rights to produce the West Coast premiere.”

Directed by Center Rep alumni, Marcus Potter, Producing Artistic Director of New York Rep and Interim Artistic Director of Theatre Aspen, foresees a lot for Bay Area audiences to be excited about in Red Speedo. “For one thing, the entire play takes place around this pool, which creates a really interesting world,” Potter says. “And the play is funny. It’s so twisted and dark, but the dialogue is downright funny. Lucas Hnath explores these crazy opposing arguments. He takes the argument that we’re afraid to argue for and he pushes it as far as he can go. Sometimes it’s just absurd.” The gifted Potter began his career in theatre in the Young REP Theatre program, and is one of the many success stories at the Walnut Creek arts center to move to NY and direct professionally.

Director Potter’s work is a fast paced rendering of a difficult text, one that reads nearly like fast talking millennials, but the drama plays like a thriller onstage. Ray, played by the splendid Max Carpenter is a highly promising but a valley boy swimmer with just a public high school education.  He gets involved in a doping scandal that from the sport’s perspective could result a false win for the Gold.

Mamet comes to mind when listening to the fast talking overlapping dialogue from the four stunning actors on stage.  How to keep Ray out of trouble, and at what cost, is the arc of this dark comedy/drama. The three include Ray’s lawyer and his bossy brother, his former sports therapist and angry ex-girlfriend, and his focused coach. They are authentically played, at breakneck pace, by Gabriel Marin, Rosie Hallett, and Michael Asberry as the every-man coach. Potter is brilliant with his timing of the Olympic babble that is truly fascinating. Hnath’s 80 min script dives immediately into the action.

The pool is is authentic and gleaming down stage in front of the playing space. You never doubt, even from the earliest moments, that you are immersed in the world of professional swimming. Potter's direction of RED SPEEDO gives a new perspective on Olympian poolside drama. The language of Hnath's story is driven and fierce, the madness of this play shows a perspective on power that is dark and human. It plays off the very different worlds of the four characters like a dysfunctional family looking for reasons and answers. Ray's brother, Peter, and his coach are dependent on the swimmers’ success. Hnath tackles them with the same confidence he did with the Bible in his play The Christians that was staged at the SF Playhouse last season.

Ray’s feels he is the victim: a drug scandal will end his place on the Olympic team. The swimmers main goal is an endorsement with Speedo and his hope for a normal American dream. Ray’s physicality and simple ego keeps him excited about simple goals including his new RED SPEEDO. He wears the icon garment throughout the play and is just about naked the whole 80 minutes and as gorgeous as any blond haired Greek god. Ray is a swanky Matthew McConaughey, or Ryan Lochte with a body like Michael Phelps. Ray’s inner pain shows as he paces the pool, as swimmers do, the look on his face suggests he’s not just emptying his head of actual thoughts. It takes some very superb acting to get that kind of “air head feel” and Carpenter gets it just right.

Congratulations to scenic designer Dipu Gupta, the concrete world he crafted is like a cathedral of lost hope and a magnificent view into the world of Olympian power. The slick lighting by Kurt Landisman bounces off of the glimmering water in the pool and the huge back wall lit to reflect the heated moods in this story. The vast sound design by Cliff Caruthers and the finesse costumes by Christina Dinkel including the tight Red Speedo that is all Carpenter wears. Stage manager Megan McClintock keeps the madness moving. Fight director Dave Maier brings passion and drama to the final moments of two brothers real love for each other, and director Potter is effective using the pool as the weapon. RED SPEEDO is twisted and dark, but the dialogue is downright high speed poetry and non stop perfect. Next up at the Center REP is SHIRLEY VALENTINE directed by George Maguire that opens March 30th. But in the meantime the pool is open at the Lesher Center for the Arts, bring your own towel.

Red Speedo

By Victor Cordell

Posted: 02/03/18

As the curtain rises (figuratively), a man in a business suit patters like a snake oil salesman to another man in an athletic warm up outfit. The attorney, Peter, uses every bit of logic and emotion at his disposal, seeking to persuade Coach to his way of thinking. At the swim club, performance enhancing drugs have been found. Peter’s brother Ray is one Olympic trial away from getting a big endorsement contract from Speedo. Although a different swimmer is implicated, Peter is concerned that any scandal would diminish Ray’s marketability. He also implores Coach to consider that the reputation of the club would be sullied. Coach isn’t having any of Peter’s argument.

Ray has become a world class swimmer, even beating Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Swimming is everything to Ray. He’s not the brightest bulb; hasn’t earned a college degree; and doesn’t have a Plan B. Ray does have modest expectations to have a family and a home of his own, and he does possess some unexpected savvy. For instance, he had a large tattoo of a sea serpent inked from the nape of his neck, across his back, and down his thigh. The result is a unique visual identity when he is racing (except for the back stroke!). Not only will he stand out from the competition, but the sea serpent will become a logo to promote his brand.

Playwright Lucas Hnath has created a compact serio-comic thriller of four devious charactersoften blurting thoughts in often overlapping dialogue. Each wants to win, and in different ways is prepared to compromise moral or legal rules and use others to get there. So the playwright asks the question: what are athletes and their promoters willing to do in order to win? But refusing to hold to an imperative, his characters raise objections to simple morality. The crafty Ray asks if improper actions are justified to make an unfair playing field fair, while Peter recalls the instructions in airplanes to always secure your own oxygen mask before helping others.

The message extends beyond the boundaries of the pool. Why is it that the public cares so much about who wins sporting contests? Further, why do we adopt individual athletes and teams to identify with and become part of our own psychic measures of personal success and failure? This behavior is particularly curious when so many athletes have moral and social standards very different and even clashing with our own.

The acting in “Red Speedo” is stellar. Max Carpenter plays Ray. He wears only a red Speedo his complete time on stage. Not only is he exposed and vulnerable, but his whole life is wrapped up in that fistful of spandex. Carpenter’s awkward smile reveals Ray’s lack of confidence about life outside the pool. His anxiety over expecting an outcome to one extreme or the other is palpable.

Gabriel Marin is whiny as Peter who wants to get more than he gives. He feels he’s owed a better deal, and Ray is his meal ticket to move from practicing law, which he hates, to representing athletes. Michael Asberry as Coach is a no nonsense, towering, impenetrable wall of a man, almost taunting anyone to try to get by him. With years invested in coaching Ray, he will take whatever measures necessary to keep him from bolting to a more famous, better funded club. Finally, Ray’s ex-girlfriend is Lydia, played by Rosie Hallett, whose portrayal is smartly ambiguous. Hallet makes it unclear whether Lydia really considers herself a victim or a perpetrator, but the character knows that with her previous career gone, she must move on. She and Peter are at odds, and she feels that he is partially responsible for her woes, which has complicated her relationship with Ray as well.

Center Rep has produced a sharply drawn realization of Hnath’s Obie winning play. The story line is riveting, and director Markus Potter’s pace is brisk and assured. One nagging issue in the script is that the several scenes all occur at the swim club’s indoor pool, and mysteriously, our characters have the space all to themselves on every occasion. Scenic designer Dipu Gupta’s space itself is simple but striking. A bright white, painted cement block back wall dominates the stage, and a rudimentary pool fronts it. The small pool, adorned with lane dividers, appears to be a glass covered imitation, but wrongful observation is disabused when the action shockingly results in breaking the surface of the water.


Swimsuit competition

By Richard Dodds

Posted: 02/08/18

Gabriel Marin, left, and Max Carpenter plays brothers with a troublesome relationship in the Center Rep production of Lucas Hnath's "Red Speedo." Photo: kevinberne.com

You wouldn't want this guy as your lawyer. Not only does his defense introduce extraneous belittlements of his client, it is filled with start-and-stop phrases that don't quite get to their point before lurching off in a new direction. If he were a cartoon character, large drops of sweat would be flying off his forehead into the jury box. But we are poolside, not in a court of law, and his client also happens to be his brother standing before us mute and naked save for the microscopic swimsuit that gives Lucas Hnath's sleek morality tale its title.

In "Red Speedo," Ray is an Olympic hopeful who finds a promising career on the line when his coach discovers a stash of performance-enhancing drugs in the club's refrigerator. His brother Peter is already negotiating an endorsement deal with Speedo and his own ticket out of an unloved job as an attorney. Whether or not the drugs belonged to Ray, and the brothers try to put the blame on another swimmer, if the coach reports his discovery to the proper authorities, all swimmers under his tutelage will be tarred. No glory, no medals, and no Speedo deal.

In 80 intense minutes, Hnath lays out the snowballing cost of a series of ethical compromises. "When you go for what you want, when you think about yourself, when you do what's best for you, everyone benefits," says Peter early in the play, but by its end, any remaining rewards are slim pickings even for scavengers.

In a sharp and stylish production at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, Center Rep is presenting the West Coast premiere of "Red Speedo." First seen off-Broadway in 2016, it's the Bay Area's second look at the young playwright's already prodigious resume. San Francisco Playhouse presented "The Christians," a very different look at right and wrong, and among the works we have to look forward to are the intriguingly titled "A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney" and the audaciously conceived Ibsen sequel "A Doll's House, Part 2," which marked Hnath's recent Broadway debut.

While Hnath's plays examine fundamental issues of human behavior, they do so in very different ways. With "Red Speedo," you'd be forgiven if David Mamet came to mind, especially in the opening scene as Peter's defense of his brother becomes a steamrolling monologue filled with the verbal tics and flexible integrity often found in Mamet's characters. But Hnath affirms his own voice as the play proceeds, as rationalizations and justifications become the lingua franca.

Even the docile swimmer Ray, who his own brother acknowledges is not too bright and has no other marketable skills, has convinced himself that it would be an unfair disadvantage is he were to be denied testosterone-boosting supplements. After finding a way to measure the finger lengths of his fellow teammates, he concluded those with the longest fingers had the best times. "It's like affirmative action," he says, since his finger lengths come up on the short side.

With a sliver of a water-filled pool at the front of the stage in Dipu Gupta's set of blank-canvas sterility, the full focus is on the four characters who combine in different permutations in the series of short scenes. Working with a cast who clearly get the characters, director Markus Potter carefully modulates the script's increasing intensity until an explosion of less-than-convincingly-staged violencee.

Gabriel Marin oozes with authentically rendered sleaze as Ray's self-serving brother, while Max Carpenter, with a body ready for a Speedo ad, is able to play both dumb and shrewd as Ray, whose gracefulness seems limited to water. As the swim coach, a stalwart Michael Asberry displays the strongest ethical boundaries, which turn out to be more problematically complex as the play proceeds. Rosie Hallett effectively appears in one scene as Ray's former girlfriend and steroid provider with her own specific agenda.

"Red Speedo" certainly whets the appetite for more plays by Hnath to make their ways westward. He seems to recognize where we bury our metaphorical bodies, and while he digs into those places, the audience becomes a participant in any judgments to be made.



What price glory?

By George Heymont

Posted: 02/05/18

Up in Walnut Creek, Center REP is presenting the Bay Area premiere of Lucas Hnath's controversial Obie Award-winng play, Red Speedo. Directed by Markus Potter on a stark unit set designed by Dipu Gupta, Hnath's play crams a lot of emotional conflict ino its starkly staged 80 minutes.

The play's protragonist is Ray (Max Carpenter), a young swimmer who aspires to be chosen for the Olympic swim team. Having recently acquired an impressive full-body length dragon tattoo, Ray spens a good part of the evening quietly munching o baby carrots while struggling to assert himself against the dominant personalities of his coach (Michael J. Asberrry) and his older brother, Peter (Gabriel Marin).

As the deadline approaches for Ray to qualify as an Olympic athlete, a scandal threatens to erupt when performance-enhancing drugs are discovered in the locker room refrigerator at the pool where Ray's team meets for swim practice. Not only is the coach concerned about reporting the presence of drugs to his bosses, it seems as if a swimmer named Tad is being targeted as the likely user -- until Ray confesses that the drugs are his and his alone.

Ray's revelation throws Peter into a frenzy. An aggressive, fast-talking attorney who hopes to cash in on his kid brother's potential fame, Peter has been pouring all his energy into getting an endorsement from Speedo and setting up other potentially lucrative deals. When Ray explains why he started using drugs to boost his performance, Peter is less than thrilled to learn that it was at the suggestion of Ray's ex-girlfriend, Lydia (Rosie Hallett).

Part of the conflict in Hnath's drama is that Peter despises Lydia and went out of his way to make sure that she lost her professional license as a sports therapist. Ray, however, misses her and considers Lydia to be the one person who has ever truly been kind to him. Although his coach has always worked to mold Ray (who handsomely embodies the stereotype of a dumb jock) into a competitive swimmer and his brother has always tried to make things happen for Ray, Lydia is the only person in the swimmer's life who has not treated him as a piece of meat or the goose that might start to lay golden eggs.

Hnath's swimmer knows he's a lunk head with no skills other than swimming. Easily manipulated by people who are smarter than him, Ray nevertheless is able to comprehend that others are desperate to cash in on his earning potential regardless of the risks that might result from their decisions. Through a curious plot twist, Ray discovers that he may not have needed the performance boosters to make it across the finish line ahead of his competitors. However, once he has proven that point to himself, he also realizes that he's tired of winning and would just as soon remain anonymous -- even if it means a lifetime of getting fired from meaningless jobs (which would sabotage all of his brother's and coach's efforts on his behalf).

Intensely directed by Markus Potter, Center Rep's production features costumes by Christina Dinkel, lighting by Kurt Landisman, and sound by Cliff Caruthers. It would be easy to think of Ray as mere eye candy, but Max Carpenter brings a poignant level of vulnerability to the carrot-chewing muscular hunk who still clenches his fists like a little boy when the adults in the room argue above and around him. While Rosie Hallett and Michael J. Asberry make strong contributions in supporting roles, Gabriel Marin delivers an astonishing bravura performance as Peter in a fully-developed tour de force which leaves the audience convinced that, even if the fast-talking Peter loses his license to practice law, he will be able to survive as a used car salesman.

"There is an Olympic size success...in the scintillating...Red Speedo

By Marc Gonzalez

Posted: 02/05/18

There is an Olympic size success at the Margaret Lesher Theater in the scintillating, competitively intriguing play, Red Speedo. Playwright Lucas Hnath has written this play with an impeccable balance of modern dialogue where equal importance is given to what is said and what is not said. The utterances, half-sentences, and marathon monologues are handled with expert care by a dynamite cast of four. With exquisite direction by Markus Potter, Center Repertory Theater has a spitfire show currently swimming in its lanes.

The audience meets Ray, an Olympic-caliber swimmer, just before the Olympic prelims. Ray only knows swimming and what it takes to become an even better swimmer. His brother, Peter, only knows law and how to protect his brother. Lydia only knows how to love Ray and hate Peter. And Ray’s Coach only knows how to train swimmers. All four characters share the common trait of doing whatever it takes to win at any cost. Max Carpenter delivers an exceptional performance as Ray. His nuanced and jock-cadenced speech portrays Ray in a way that makes him a pawn in Coach and Peter’s game, until he becomes a pawn with opinions. Mr. Carpenter portrays Ray as someone who isn’t necessarily dumb, but knows how to play dumb when it benefits him. Gabriel Marin delivers an equally excellent performance as Peter. Mr. Marin carries the majority of the monologue load, and delivers the longwinded lawyerly speeches with natural ease and humorous inflection when called for. His brotherly chemistry opposite Mr. Carpenter carries a sibling-based believability which culminates in the ending fight scene when both brothers have lost their tempers.

Rosie Hallett is fantastic as Ray’s former sweetheart and provider of the performance enhancing drugs Ray took and continues to take. Miss Hallett exudes a presence that is both empowering for her and dedicated to Ray, never showing a sign of weakness but rather a determined commitment to bettering Lydia’s life. Last, but certainly not least, Michael J. Asberry is a perfectly cast Coach, giving audiences a powerful presence and well-delivered dialogue resulting in a commanding performance. Mr. Potter’s direction is a brilliant execution of Mr. Hnath’s script, with proper pacing to the intermission-less play and completely fluid transitions within Dipu Gupta’s outstanding scenic design of a swim club complete with functional water in the three lanes. As a former competitive swimmer myself, the dynamics and intensity of winning at all costs and obsessing over times and numbers is quite real in this production.

Mr. Hnath writes his characters to all have very high stakes throughout the play, with a deep-seated intensity to win at all costs and to use whoever is needed to attain that goal. Mr. Potter’s direction and casting complements Mr. Hnath’s script with four more-than-capable actors to be these characters in a believable, nuanced, and very specific fashion. With everything working in its favor, Red Speedo is your choice for a do-not-miss production. Go see this show!


Benicia Herald

'Speedo' Looks under the Surface of a Swimmer's Life

By Elizabeth Warnimont

Posted: 02/8/18

Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo,” Center Repertory Company’s current production at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, delves into the inner life of a competitive swimmer in an intense format – a single, poolside setting and a short, 80-minute time slot with no break for intermission – that is appropriate to the intense personal trauma set to unfold there with steadily-increasing urgency.

Gabriel Marin takes the lead as promoter-lawyer Peter, a driven, almost fanatical attorney desperate to improve his lot by promoting his pet Olympic hopeful Ray (Max Carpenter). Marin succeeds in teasing the audience with a nervous but initially contained, predictable demeanor that evolves dramatically as the story intensifies.

Carpenter parallels his counterpart with a deceptively meek, bottled-up aspect as his agent/promoter batters the swim coach (Michael Asberry as Coach) with his pitch in the opening scene, holding out in order to ease in the expression of his own personal power later as the driving forces behind his own tightly-packaged aspirations are revealed at successive intervals.

The minimal stage setting, a bare, grey-white backdrop wall and a small section of a swimming lane at stage front, increases the sense of tension by limiting opportunity for distraction from the central, personal crises of the two main players. Realistic sound effects add to the insidiously superficial arena atmosphere.

Coach appears at first timid, bulldozed over by his swimmer’s intense, angst-ridden agent. He can barely get in a word as Peter imposes his will, for the athlete and by extension for the swim club where he trains. He too, though, masks his true intentions and motivations until the ensuing turn of events draws them out. Ray’s girlfriend Lydia (Rosie Hallett), who exists mostly off-stage but makes pointed if brief appearances – also emerges as a key aspect of the triangulated passions that steer the inner course of Ray’s life and career.

“Speedo” establishes itself in its opening scene as a thing of only mild interest. Expectations are set at a low bar – but it’s a trick. The playwright succeeds in luring his audience in with soft strokes, setting them up to be startled and eventually riveted as assumptions are progressively shattered within the scope of the production’s brief allotted time.

Director Markus Potter brings on the best elements of the playwright’s tale, and the players do an extraordinary job bringing it to fiery life. While Marin nails his character’s desperation as the troubled staff attorney, it’s Carpenter who makes the most vivid and surprising turns as the supposed athlete pawn, eventually revealing a previously unseen complexity and sensibility. The production’s R rating is based on some offensive language and one brief but graphic reference to errant sexual behavior.


Red Speedo Exposes our Competitive Madness, at Center REP, Walnut Creek

By Barry David Horwitz

Posted: 02/08/18

“This is a man …” says the anxious man in suit and tie, pacing poolside, and pointing at a blond, muscled swimmer in a red Speedo, who is hunched over and depressed. We are looking at a vast and shabby indoor pool. The stage features an actual swimming lane of that pool, full of chlorinated water–with red, white, and blue plastic floaters.

You can’t ask for a funnier or more dramatic beginning for Lucas Hnath’s “Red Speedo,” winner of the 2016 Obie Award for Best Play. Now that Olympic water is reflecting blue at Center REP.

The suited-up man is Peter (intense, hypnotic Gabriel Marin), ranting at breakneck speed. Peter, lawyer and brother, disciple and schemer, hilariously praises his divinely talented brother, Ray (self-absorbed, god-like Max Carpenter). While Peter rants about his brother, Ray is inarticulate, head down, and silent. What a stunning comic beginning to a bone-chilling 90 minutes in the pool.

Ray, the nearly naked Max Carpenter, looks like a Greek statue come to life. Ray wears only the red Speedo and an elongated body tattoo of a sea serpent. He is in training for the Olympic trials the next day. Carpenter nails the role with halting, self-referential spacey come-backs that bring down the house.

Ray, the nearly naked Max Carpenter, looks like a Greek statue come to life. Ray wears only the red Speedo and an elongated body tattoo of a sea serpent. He is in training for the Olympic trials the next day. Carpenter nails the role with halting, self-referential spacey come-backs that bring down the house.

Although the subject may be steroids, and the doping of an Olympic swim team, we all know that Hnath is taking about “Winning,” as the over-arching goal for U.S. lives.

Will Ray overturn the system or break into the Olympics to gain Michael Phelps-type fame and fortune? Can his Machiavellian brother, Peter, make Ray his dupe, while he negotiates with the Speedo corporation for the Big Bucks? Their wordplay is full of cheap wisdom and brilliant chicanery: we love to eavesdrop on the battle for Ray’s body and soul.

Ray is poor, down to his last chance in the American economic sweepstakes. Peter wants to make some big money off his worked-out younger brother. Max Carpenter supplies just the right amount of despondency and doltishness to keep us guessing. He comes up with halting answers, constantly changing ideas to alarm his brother, his girlfriend, and his coach.

His wonderful, straight arrow, imposing Coach (stalwart, noble Michael Asberry) brings righteousness to the negotiating table. Coach argues brilliantly with Peter, sweeping us up into their power struggle over the fate of golden Ray.

Ray, the nearly naked Max Carpenter, looks like a Greek statue come to life. Ray wears only the red Speedo and an elongated body tattoo of a sea serpent. He is in training for the Olympic trials the next day. Carpenter nails the role with halting, self-referential spacey come-backs that bring down the house.

Peter has already sacrificed forlorn Ray’s former girlfriend, his only love Lydia (powerful, serious Rosie Hallet), who was his sports therapist. Peter disposes of her, handily, using the legal system to bind Ray.

The colloquial, rapid-fire, half-broken dialogue between Peter, Ray, Coach, and Lisa gives “Red Speedo” a Shakespearean spine. The brothers are engaged in a battle for wealth, power, and fame. Each is enmeshed in a deadly real game of Survivor or Hunger Games. The dog-eat-dog hunt for “success” spirals them down and down. Competition rules, like The Bachelor on steroids.

The four superb actors, and the letter-perfect direction by Markus Potter make this an essential American dark comedy. The shabby concrete walls of the local swim club, the vaulting ambitions of each contestant flashing into conflict, and the blood that is shed make “Red Speedo” true ritual and great theater. Time to see that pool, those actors again.


At Center REP, Red Speedo is a Terrifying Mask for Our Unethical Age

By John Wilkins

Posted: 02/15/18

The fascinating American playwright Lucas Hnath’s Red Speedo, receiving its Bay Area premiere at Center Rep in Walnut Creek under Markus Potter’s scalpel-sharp direction, captures a strange quality about ethical thinking — it helps to not have any. Ethics, that is.

It’s an awful proposition, and one we resist throughout the play’s lurid, 80-minute sprint to hell, even as scene after scene unfolds to demonstrate otherwise. In that, Red Speedo is of the moment.

Hnath has a gift for burrowing into experiences containing an electric sense of reality. There’s a vivid stickiness to his characters and the situations that he puts them through. In The Christians (at the SF Playhouse last year), a sedate, Protestant church service becomes the unlikely scene for a rueful accounting of a pastor’s troubled marriage. Here, it’s a swimming club’s locker room on the eve of the Olympic trials that serves as the springboard for a brutal disquisition on the nature of sacrifice and identity.

Ray, a swimmer with serious Olympic aspirations, sits on a bench incessantly eating carrots, while his older brother Peter, a lawyer and his kind of manager, begs Ray’s coach to take a mysterious stash of drugs and flush them down the toilet: “People hear that one of your swimmers has been doing performance enhancing drugs, and people start to think that the whole team, and then Ray, who’s always been clean… gets implicated.”

It’s a classic setup, so clear that a child could parse it: Ray is dumb but talented, Peter is sleazy but compelling, and Coach holds his ground for the good of the sport. Hnath has a keen sense of ritual, the way some situations demand that we take on certain qualities or behave in ways that have nothing to do with our actual beliefs and commitments. The stakes are real, but the players are detached — outside observers to their own dramas.

Peter’s frantic harangues have their own special geometry and life, while Ray is a canny cipher whose goals shift with jack-rabbit quickness, and Coach digs the privileges of playing and saying coach-like things, whether they make sense or not. And then there’s Ray’s ex-girlfriend, sports therapist and one-time drug connection (he is of course using PEDs) Lydia. By the time she enters the scene, you realize how stunning these stock characters can be when infused with actual, human desires.

Fans of Kabuki Theater love the emotion that its elaborate masks and makeup both contain and release. Red Speedo has a similar jolt. Everyone is perfectly what he or she is, and that allows for a freedom of spirit and a rather loose, amoral sense of ethics. Ray’s spiked blond hair, toned body and red speedo scream “Olympic swimmer.” His image is as controlled and defined as any Hollywood casting agent could ever hope for, and yet his soul is something else.

Confessing to his brother that he’s been using PEDs, Ray equates them to “affirmative action” for lesser athletes. He claims that he isn’t breaking the rules because the rules state that the drugs will harm him and he’s just fine, and then he tries to cap off that bit of argumentative jiu-jitsu with some Buddhist philosophy. And that’s just the start.

It’s an idiot’s performance, exactly what we would expect of Ray, and yet it works. By the time he finishes explaining the difficulty of his situation — he has to dope up to have any chance of winning the next day’s race — Peter has essentially thrown his life over to him. And this is the beauty of Red Speedo: that the fantasy of the most hackneyed clichés is more alluring than ethics, sense, or the actual living of a life.

I have to say one more thing: Center Rep is not known for producing daring plays, and I couldn’t help wonder after this sharp, smart production of Red Speedo why they would fill their schedule with Shirley Valentine and Disney’s Freaky Friday. If you’re capable of fun and complexity and excellence, as Center Rep clearly is with Red Speedo, it should be fought for and embraced.