The driving force in John Logan’s play Red is the question, “What do you see?” As it’s artist Mark Rothko (played by Scott Wentworth) who’s asking, that seemingly simple inquiry takes on epic proportions. Red is billed as a two-character drama, with only Rothko and his assistant, Ken (Jay Sullivan), onstage. But in actuality, there’s a third character — Rothko’s art. Oversize, abstract works commissioned by the Four Seasons for a restaurant, the paintings are done in various shades of red, and they dwarf the two men working on them. Rothko spends much of his time contemplating the paintings, alternately taking on the roles of all-powerful creator, needy lover and bewildered viewer. He moves from anger to despair, confusion to inspiration, doubt to triumph and back again, as he works.
Initially, Rothko is convinced this will be his greatest achievement, but after some self-reflection, and prodding by Ken, he realizes it may also be a resounding failure. (As Ken points out, Rothko is creating contemplative art that will be hung in the Four Seasons, a symbol of conspicuous consumption. Will the art elevate the setting? Or will the setting mock the art?)
Rothko is larger than life, intensely serious, with an ego equal in size to his paintings. At one point, he says there is “tragedy in every brush stroke.” It isn’t an overstatement. Still, Red isn’t a platform for Rothko’s angst. Nor is it a lesson in art appreciation. Instead, it’s a look at the man who created some of the most important artwork of the 20th century, a man who dared to ask, “What do you see?” 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through March 25. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit www.alleytheatre.org. $25 to $77.
Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: March 2. Continues through March 25, 2012
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