February may be the month of love, but romance isn’t the only thing happening with On the Verge Theatre’s regional premiere of Lucas Hnath’s taut drama Red Speedo. The play focuses on America’s obsession with winning at all costs—a topic seemingly ripped from today’s political headlines.
OutSmart spoke with Red Speedo’s openly gay director Ron Jones, a true stalwart of the local theater scene, about the play’s themes of success, survival, and desperation. At the center of Red Speedo is Ray, who is headed to the Olympics swim-team tryouts. If he makes the team, he’ll get an endorsement deal with Speedo.
“If he gets that deal, he’ll have achieved his personal best,” Verge’s production notes explain. “When a stash of performance-enhancing drugs is found in the locker-room fridge, Ray has to crush the rumors or risk losing everything.”
On paper, Ray may seem to have a lot to offer, but in Red Speedo, audiences will be confronted with other narratives. “I can say that romance does not work out for the leading character,” Jones admits. “He is really trying to attain the American dream for himself and his girlfriend. Although they talk about their history and where they’re going to go, it doesn’t look good. It’s rather bleak.”
With rapid-fire dialogue and characters that remind us of the best of David Mamet, playwright Hnath sets out to warn audiences about the pitfalls of men with passion and drive so intense that it narrows their view. “These men are not always honest, and that’s a problem for this young woman in the play,” Jones adds. “I think she finds it difficult to be romantically involved with someone she can’t trust.”
While the play’s handsome swimmer in the red Speedo does not identify as gay, there is still plenty of LGBTQ appeal to the production. “Ray, the leading character, is an example of someone who has endured a lot of hardship in his life and has been ostracized for being who he is. I think that a lot of gay people can identify with that,” Jones notes.
Beyond that, Jones was drawn to the play because of playwright Hnath’s artistry. “The writing is very concise, interesting, and intriguing. It’s a fast-paced piece. […] I was just so enamored with the way that the play is put together, and how the plot reveals itself. There are all kinds of compromises, threats, and stuff that unfolds as the play winds down. It’s fun to do, and I think it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Like other literary figures before him, Ray wears red as a symbol of his passion. “This young man is so passionate about swimming, and he’s so passionate about his dream,” Jones explains. “But in some ways, it’s a morality play because one of the subplots is the use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
Jones’ decision to stage the production at a local swimming school was not a marketing gimmick. “There are two reasons. We’re a new company, and we don’t have our own space yet,” he says. “Also, I just thought, ‘Wow, it would be such a great idea to really do it in a pool.’” The location they found offers both the requisite intimacy for a theatrical production and the acoustics that ensure audiences can hear the actors.
“Although the play is really written so that the actors don’t go into the water very much, I decided to put two of the characters in the water at different times,” Jones concludes. “So I’m taking a little different approach to using the water in this piece.”
What: On the Verge Theatre’s Red Speedo
Where: Gigglin’ Marlin Dive & Swim, 4502 Almeda Rd.
When: February 3–26
Tickets and info: onthevergetheatre.org/redspeedo