This Week in Theater
Written by John Logan
Review by Rose Desena
“Red” opens in the studio of the great, Abstract Expressionist painter, Mark Rothko, (Tony Abatemarco). The first thing, I noticed in the dimly lit studio were the covered windows, which is very unusual for an artist’s studio. In general an artist seeks natural sunlight, but we learn later that Rothko wanted to paint in the environment that his art was to be seen, in low-lit rooms. He didn’t want anything to detract from the colors he chose.
Rothko is fussing about in his studio as he waits for his new assistant Ken (Patrick Stafford), a naive young man who shows up to the art studio wearing a suit and tie making him an immediate subject for Rothko’s ridicule, which lays the tone for this existential drama that is just as much about art history as it is about the man himself. Red is delightfully a dual play because it is about the life, no let me say the complete existence, of Rothko, but also the life of his paintings, which we soon learn Rothko literally viewed as alive.
Red is an enthralling 90-minute war between the real life of human relationships, an artist’s life, and an artist’s obsessive relationship with his paintings and their purpose. Rothko, extremely stubborn and opinionated, allows Ken to step inside the very depths of his creative soul as he begins to work on a sizable commission from the Four Seasons luxury restaurant. He is to produce a series of substantial murals that are to hang in the dining room and bathe the rich and powerful of New York, in his rich artistic talent.
Rothko has accepted their advance of $35,000. Ken is not just his assistant but also his antagonist; he prods him throughout the project with at first a naïve intellect that grows just as deep as Rothko’s, and together they experience the death, or in the terms of the play, the stomping to death, of an older generation of artists by a new generation of artists.
This play is as much about art as about father and son relationships and generational conflict, the petty personal conflicts of a great period of American art with dizzying discussions on the meaning of life and art.
Rothko was one of the highly educated generation of artists with a deep intellectual understanding of art. His contemporaries, de Kooning, Motherwell and Pollock not only could produce, but they could analyze and discuss art with the same passion that drove their creativity. To Rothko being educated in art was more important than what you produce as an artist. It was an inspirational generation of artists, one we may never see again, particularly as computers take over more of the art world.
John Logan (Writer) was fascinated by the hidden story about an artist who turned down money and inevitably more fame because he didn’t want his art to live at a place with wealthy snobs who would not appreciate it for what it was. At one point, Rothko exclaims that he wants his art to ruin the appetite of the rich.
Red explores the man and the artist and helped me understand this critical time in art history. It kept me firmly planted in my seat. I loved it. Abatemarco and Stafford are exceptional; everything about the play was beautifully done. caryn desai (Director) does a great job at developing their chemistry; they were so good together I felt like I watching a father and son.
There really isn’t more to say. Whether you’re interested in art, Rothko or neither, this is a play worth seeing if for nothing else, to remind us to have passion in our lives.
“It’s a go see”
Written by: John Logan
Cast: Tony Abatemarco and Patrick Stafford
Director: Caryn Desai
Friday and Saturday @ 8 pm and Sunday 2pm until September 15th
INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 East Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, CA 90802