Monday, June 12, 2023

"Red Speedo" by Walking Shadow Theatre Company at the Hamline University Pool

Just a few days after seeing an incredible site-specific performance of The Courtroom by Jungle Theater in a Hamline University courtroom classroom (which will be performed at the Jungle for the next few weeks), I returned to the lovely St. Paul campus for another incredible site-specific performance. Walking Shadow Theatre Company (which recently held a Feast at Black Forest Inn) is performing the Lucas Hnath play Red Speedo at Hamline's competitive swimming pool. The play is about a competitive swimmer who admits to his brother that he's been doping, and all of the action takes place at the pool. So why not stage it at a pool?! I love site-specific theater, because half of the work is done for you. You don't have to imagine you're in a courtroom or a pool, because you actually are. Then it's just sit back and enjoy the show as it plays out in a location where the story actually takes place. With Red Speedo, there's a lot to enjoy - a smart and concise script that deals with thorny issues, a strong four-person cast performing just a few feet in front of you, and a realistic and immersive design (caution: you might get splashed). Put on your flip flops and head to the pool weekends through July 1.

Coach and Peter have a discussion while Ray eats baby carrots
(John Winston Stephens, Paul LaNave, and Logan Lang)
(photo by John Heimbuch)
Ray (U of M/Guthrie BFA student Logan Lang) is a swimmer who's had a lot of success recently, and is expected to qualify for the Olympics in the trials happening the next day. But there's a slight snag in the plans when his coach (John Winston Stephens) finds performance-enhancing drugs in the community fridge. Ray tells him it belongs to another swimmer, and Coach decides to throw the drugs out and look the other way. Then Ray confesses to his brother Peter (Paul LaNave), who's also his manager, that the drugs belonged to him, and he's been taking them for about a year. This sends Peter reeling, as he tries to understand what his brother has done, how it affects him (BTW he's a lawyer), and what the best plan forward is. All Ray wants is to qualify for the Olympics and take the promotional deal with Speedo, but is afraid he can't do it without the drugs. Further complicating matters is Ray's ex Lydia (Amanda Forstrom), a sports therapist from whom he first got the drugs, who had a disagreement with Peter that lead to the breakup. There's no good way out of this mess and the playwright doesn't give us one, but it's fascinating to watch these characters grapple with issues of loyalty, morality, and the allure of winning.

Lydia (Amanda Forstrom) and Ray (Logan Lang)
have a quiet moment by the pool (photo by John Heimbuch)
Natalie Novacek directs the talented four-person cast, and does well with this tricky script that has characters stammering and talking over each other. Scenes are well-constructed and separated by a whistle blow from the stage manager. Surprisingly they actually do vary the lighting by turning off the bright overhead lights for more intimate scenes. Everyone in the cast gives a great performance, fully present and in the scene, with nowhere to hide from the audience sitting just a few feet away from them. The relationships between the characters feel real, especially the two brothers, who fight like only brothers can (with scarily realistic fight choreography by Annie Enneking).

the Hamline pool
(Paul LaNave and Logan Lang, photo by John Heimbuch)
When you're doing a play next to a pool, someone's gotta end up in that pool. Isn't that Chekhov's law?! Rest assured, someone does (the program lists three lifeguards which is comforting for the safety of the actors), and if you're sitting close you might get splashed (poolside seating includes a cushion with a back, upper deck is bleacher only). The smell of the chlorine, the humidity in the air (which is not uncomfortable), all add to the realism of the story. And yes, Ray wears a red Speedo, including one printed with his sea serpent tattoo that extends across his full back and onto his leg (and is important to the plot). The other characters are dressed in simple athleisure wear (costume design by Khamphian Vang, tattoo design by Lucie Biros).

If you love site-specific theater in non-conventional spaces, don't miss Walking Shadow Theatre Company's Red Speedo, playing weekends through July 1 at Hamline University in St. Paul.