“Red,” by John Logan, is a dynamically intense, thrillingly intellectual dramatization of the intersection between art and ego. The play won six Tony Awards and numerous other critical acclamations. Logan is the author of a dozen plays, as well as numerous screenplays, including “Hugo,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Gladiator.”
A theatrically perfect biopic of famed abstract-expressionist beat generation painter, Mark Rothko, Asolo Repertory’s production, directed by Lou Jacob, is taut and riveting, a pas de deux of balance between meditation and explosive language before a backdrop of exploding color and light. Jacob’s direction elicits all the facets implicit in the written word, comedy as well as drama.
“The play centers on the tense polarities that exist between young and old, employer and employee, master and apprentice, mentor and mentee, father and son,” Jacob says. “Rothko warns his assistant Ken, ‘Consider: I am not your rabbi, I am not your father, I am not your shrink, I am not your friend, I am not your teacher — I am your employer.’ Despite Rothko’s blunt disclaimer, he becomes all of these, and we come to understand the combustible energy that existed within Rothko’s studio.”
Mark Zeisler delivers a driving depiction of a didactic, scholarly, monomaniacal, brilliant artist who expounds, “We are a smirking nation living under the tyranny of ‘fine’ ... I am here to make you think ... not make pretty pictures.” Zeisler’s portrayal of the troubled painter contrives to be both overt and subtle.
J.D. Taylor, as apprentice/assistant Ken, displays a vulnerable, sensitive, initially naïve aspiring artist, who is eventually able to challenge, as well as appreciate, his mentor, who declares, finally, “This is the first time you’ve existed.”
The pair co-exists for two years in the monastic confines of a New York City studio, an inspiring set designed by James Kronzer to recreate Rothko’s actual Bowery District high-windowed garret circa 1958 to 1960.
Sound design and original music is provided by Jane Shaw. One stirring scene features a classical overture during which the two characters, with great aplomb, completely paint a large canvas in the symbolically significant color blood red.
IF YOU GO
The Asolo Repertory Theatre’s “Red” runs through April 22, at the Historic Asolo Theater. Tickets are $40 to $55. Call 360-7399.
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