SUPERB PORTRAYAL OF ROTHKO AND ASSISTANT
by John Logan
Directed by Lara Macgregor
at Fortune Theatre, Dunedin
From 14 Apr 2012 to 5 May 2012
Reviewed by Barbara Frame, 16 Apr 2012
originally published in Otago Daily Times
As full-length plays go, Red is quite short. It requires two actors, and uncomplicated set, and some paint.
So why does it seem such an audacious undertaking?
Because of John Logan's brilliant, Tony award-winning script, because of its towering themes – art, creativity, permanence, the sublime – and because of the demands it makes of its director, its actors and its audience.
On the surface, it's about a business relationship: in 1958 Mark Rothko hires Ken as his 9-to-5 assistant, to organise his studio and carry out non-artistic tasks. For Rothko, little seems to exist beyond the dimly-lit studio, his own monolithic egotism and the mystical intensity of his painting. For Ken, however, there is a life outside, and it's in the fact that beyond the studio there is a wider world in which art, once completed, must survive, that ideas collide.
In recent years the Fortune has brought us other plays about art (Art, The Pitmen Painters), but this is the first to enter so completely into the messy, inspired, perhaps mad process of creation.
The exhilaration of transformation is demonstrated in a well-choreographed sequence where the two men exuberantly yet efficiently prime a large canvas in about a minute. Torment is conveyed later in the play when Ken comes into the studio to find Rothko up to his elbows in something - red.
Director Lara Macgregor is to be congratulated for her patient exploration of the play's many-layered complexity. John Bach's Rothko overwhelms us, much as Rothko wants his paintings to do. Cameron Douglas' Ken seems at first all likeable and eager-to-learn art school graduate, but it soon becomes apparent that he, too, has something to teach.
This is a superb production of a great play, and I warmly recommend it.
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