Monday, November 14, 2011

"Red" by Pittsburgh Public Theatre

"RED" is a play by John Logan, who is most famous for his screenplays, about real-life artist and larger-than-life personality Mark Rothko and his struggle to create a series of four paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City in what was one of the largest paintings commission ever at it's time.

Dramaturgy is the unappreciated art of theatre. In case you don't know, and there's no particular reason why you should if you're not in the down-and-dirty of theatre making, dramaturgs are the bookworms who research the time period, historical facts, etc. of the show. So, random lines that may make no sense to us not familiar with say, the 1800's, 1970's or small town in Nebraska during the great depression, are researched extensively by the dramaturgs so that may find some way to impart the necessary information that the director, and often the audience, needs. The fruits of their labor are usually reduced to the program. So, it's rare that dramaturgs get any sort of accolades in a review. Well, prepare for history in the making:

The program of "RED" is about the size of a slim child's reader. In it are fun facts, interviews, timelines, etc. all about the life and work of Mark Rothko. There are even pictures of various classic works, exhibiting not just the use of but the feeling of the color "red", which are listed off by the characters in "RED". You can tell the Public truly desires to make sure the audience follows, and also has their own intimate connection, to the constant shop-talk of two artists that is, in essence, the entire play.

The set is so realistic and inviting, it's a temptation to get out your chair and just walk around it, observing all the minute details so elaborately set up. While it's never mentioned, the space where Rothko paints is a converted sports gymnasium - and you can tell by the remnant backboard of a basketball hoop still hnaging on the wall. Similarly, the sound design of the Public was amazing! Sound erupts for key moments and set changes and then is brough back down to actually sounding like it is eminating from a record player on the floor. Sometimes the transition was so spot-on, Epony didin't realize it was happening until it changed again.

Jack Cutmore-Scott as Ken, Rothko's assistant (who is completely imagined by the playwright) and Jeff Still as Mark Rothko, share a similar review - particularly because this is a two-person play and their interaction is constantly and only with each other. Both actors never quite convince the audience that they are real people. In Still's case, Rothko enters the story and yells at his assistant. In subsequent scenes he instructs his assistant, through yelling, berates his assistant, through yelling, and when finally Ken has the nerve to argue back, Rothko answers - through yelling. Ken, similarly, tells us about one horrific defining moment in his life, but is almost faceless personality-wise. This is basically because every aspect of him is supressed and overshadowed by Still's Rothko, and Scott fails to assert himself as anything more than an eager art student.

That being said, it is usually useless in reviews to comment on the actual script, which, in this case, won the 2011 TONY Award for best play. However, since this is to the defense of the actors, it must be said. The script of "RED" is not very playable. Believe you me, Epony was rarin' to go for a great night of Tony-Award winning theatre, but Logan's script proved to be just too one-note for the actors. Logan states: "I ...what really moves them is the father-son relationship between these two men. To me the play is really not about art or painting at all; it's about fathers and sons." This is ironic, because practically every line in the play is about art...and I mean, ART. It's theory, it's history, what and whose is good, etc. in an unrelenting, often consistent tirade that just grows...tiresome with still an hour to go in the production. Again, this is not the fault of the actors, who valiently keep the energy up no matter what.

However, Logan fails to even mention that Rothko, in real life was a father - twice. He was also a husband, and an art teacher for many years. And while this would have been fascinating to learn about, all the family history we hear about is Ken's, a completely made-up storyline for a completely made-up character. Rothko, actually did have two assistants near the end of his life, when he was too physically ill to actually paint his own canvases. Rothko, in essence, would sit a chair and tell them what to paint - again, a much more fascinating story than the one hour and forty-five minute art lesson that is "RED".

Tickets for "RED" can be purchased here:

-EPONYMOUS enjoys long blues down the beach, sipping pink out of a green-sized flute glass and, of course, beige days made lipid by celestials oranges. Today is the color purple.

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