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

“It’s not what would be akin to a biopic; Rafa functions as symbol in the play,” Gil-Sheridan said. “I think, in that way, so many of these top tennis players function as symbol to us. Like Serena Williams: She is such a huge symbol in our culture. But who is Serena the woman versus Serena the symbol? I think it’s similar for Rafa. And for me, as a gay man, him as a masculine ideal is what I’m looking at. So it’s kind of him, and kind of not him. It’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- and nose-touching tics in his preserve routine — and “hit the gym, hard.”

“There’s a moment in the play where the trainer comes up and starts examining my muscles onstage, with the line ‘exquisite abdominals,’ and I thought: Oh, man, I need to get…

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