Through May 6, 2012
by K.J. Rogowski
TheaterWorks two-man drama “Red” is presented in the style and spirit of its real life subject, painter Mark Rothko…without intermission, without let up, and without dramatic pretext. The factors that make this happen are John Logan’s taut script, Tazewell Thompson’s careful direction, and the delicate balance of Jonathan Epstein and Thomas Leverton’s ‘push and pull’ relationship on stage.
The play chronicles Rothko’s conflicted commission to create an expansive mural for the Four Seasons Restaurant in 1958. Add to this internal artistic and philosophical dilemma, Rothko’s new assistant, Ken, who over the play’s two year span, transforms from assistant/floor sweeper,/paint mixer to Rothko’s second conscience, artistic and ethical critic, and sometimes confidante. Needless to say, the audience knows where this play is likely to go. They would be wrong, and that is the enjoyment of this production. Like Rothko’s works, the playgoer thinks he sees something, then realizes that there are several things to see, none of which are expected.
The often times machine gun dialogue, like the staccato jazz that accompanies the swift set changes, pulls the listener along, jumping from arguments on lighting and color, to what the artist sees, feels and cares about his work, to what the work itself deserves, as a creation released into the world. As Rothko declares, “It’s like sending your blind child into a room full of razor blades.”
This show could take many directions, interspersed with talk of suicide, childhood trauma and murder, failure, jealousy, but it holds true to its purpose, to explore the mind and vision of the artist, the relationship of the artist to his art, and his art to the world. Rothko asks “What do you see?” The answer Ken gives is “Red.” What should future audiences see? See “Red.”