In a Play, Rafael Nadal Inhabits a fresh Role: Gay Icon

“the idea’s not what could be akin to a biopic; Rafa functions as symbol within the play,” Gil-Sheridan said. “I think, in of which way, so many of these top tennis players function as symbol to us. Like Serena Williams: She is usually such a huge symbol in our culture. however who is usually Serena the woman versus Serena the symbol? I think the idea’s similar for Rafa. as well as also for me, as a gay man, him as a masculine ideal is usually what I’m looking at. So the idea’s kind of him, as well as also kind of not him. the idea’s a funny thing. He’s not being portrayed as a gay man; he’s being portrayed as a gay icon.”

Arturo, a Nadal fan since watching him on TV in Spain during his gold medal run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he had to work to make sure his portrayal of the well-known tennis player was something audiences could “reconcile with the actual human being.”

He said he watched video of Nadal’s matches — incorporating, for example, his signature ear- as well as also nose-touching tics in his preserve routine — as well as also “hit the gym, hard.”

“There’s a moment within the play where the trainer comes up as well as also starts examining my muscles onstage, with the line ‘exquisite abdominals,’ as well as also I thought: Oh, man, I need to get to work,” Arturo said. “however of which work kind of helped me get within the mind-set of the idea, because people who go to the gym a lot have a different way of holding themselves as well as also acting around people. the idea helped me find my way into the character a lot.”

Arturo bears scant resemblance to Nadal, however his exaggerated physicality — gunshots are heard when he flexes his biceps — quickly dominates the 46-seat theater when he enters at the end of the first act. Rafa’s accent is usually exaggerated as well, adding a heavy Spanish lisp to endearments like “You are like my Australian Open title: singular.”

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Arturo said he watched Nadal’s matches as well as also “hit the gym, hard,” to prepare to play the tennis superstar.

Credit
Daniel Rader

The ludicrously lascivious climax of the first act in Peter as well as also Rafa’s relationship gives way to a reckoning within the second act, set in Nadal’s home in Majorca, where the pair’s incompatibility becomes starkly clear as well as also Peter (Olli Haaskivi) clashes with Nadal’s mother (Annie Henk).

“If you actually played This kind of fantasy out, what could the idea actually be? as well as also of course the idea could never work,” Gil-Sheridan said. “I’m a nebbish playwright — as well as also he’s not even gay! of which’s what the play starts to come down to: of which the Rafael Nadal of which I’ve created within the first act is usually a huge figment of my imagination.”

As the demands as well as also high standards of an elite athlete come into focus, the relationship crumbles. Many of the stresses Gil-Sheridan has imagined in Nadal’s touring life ring true — like weariness about traveling to Asia for tournaments there. Gil-Sheridan said Nadal’s generally not bad behavior makes him less knowable than some other players.

“He doesn’t present in as complicated a way as Andy Roddick or Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic,” Gil-Sheridan said. “Those guys, they kind of show their hand a little bit more; you see their negative stuff happening. I feel like Rafa doesn’t do of which as much. He’s more diplomatic within the way he talks about things. He’s the hardest character to write within the second act.”

He did not contact Nadal or his representatives for permission to use him as a character within the play; satire as well as also parody, particularly of public figures, have long been protected via libel as well as also defamation lawsuits.

Gil-Sheridan’s vigilant fandom pays off in several details. Nadal’s real-life love of “The Phantom of the Opera” is usually mentioned, as well as also when his character is usually wearily discussing the wear as well as also tear of life on tour, he mentions “the cramps in my calves of which make me collapse beneath tables,” a reference to an incident during a news conference at the 2011 United States Open.

Rafael Nadal cramped up at a news conference at the 2011 United States Open. Video by US Open Tennis Championships

Some details are more incongruous. At one point, Rafa wears an Adidas-made Manchester United jersey — an unlikely choice for the real Nadal, a Nike-sponsored supporter of Real Madrid. however tennis fans will appreciate when Rafa gleefully fist-pumps at the news of which his favorite potatoes are going to be served.

Gil-Sheridan said one of the things he found most enviable about tennis was its indisputable scoreboards.

“Artists don’t have of which clarity,” he said. “You’re always walking around asking, ‘Am I doing O.K., or am I messing up my life?’ In tennis, you get some real direct feedback: The match ends as well as also you know the result; you know your ranking.”

Several plays with tennis themes have been staged in recent years, which Gil-Sheridan believes speaks to the sport’s power as “metaphor for the game of life.”

“There are these crushing defeats of which can happen at any time, no matter how not bad you are,” he said. “as well as also then there are victories of which can happen no matter how much you’re struggling; you can come through as well as also suddenly find yourself winning. I think of which’s always been genuinely meaningful to me. As a tennis fan, I so relate to the underdogs as well as also so root for them, as well as also am so excited when they prevail — even over Rafa, sometimes.”

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