John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play Red, directed by Kenneth Kelleher, gives us a peak into the soul and the genius of artist Mark Rothko, brilliantly played by Randall King. In conversations with his apprentice, an aspiring painter Ken, amazingly played by Aaron Wilton, Rothko pontificates on those he considers lesser artists like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, and on the nature of patrons who look at paintings and call them “nice”. “Conflicted. Nuanced. Troubled. Diseased. Doomed. I am not fine. We are not fine. We are anything but fine,” says Rothko. He considers his paintings as his eternal companions. He says, “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore risky to send it out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent.”
Rothko is commissioned by an expensive and exclusive Four Seasons restaurant to paint a group of murals for its magnificent walls. On his first day on the job, Ken arrives as an eager young man in suit, ready to learn and willing to do whatever it takes. But over time, as Ken listens to Rothko’s put downs, his vainglorious and self-obsessive assertions about his work, Ken increasingly begins to question Rothko’s motives, his art, even his genius. Rothko is most shaken by the fact that despite his arrogant and self-obsessive bragging, his paintings are up for sale, to be hung in the most consumerist establishment. The play is also a reflection on the mentor protégée relationship. The two men go back and forth in the game of power, with grouchy, arrogant, aging Rothko firmly holding on to his assertions and younger naive but determined Ken insisting that reality is changing and Rothko is not in touch with even his own underlying motives. Gradually, a tug of war ensues with Ken emerging as winning their war of words.
Come and see for yourself what happens when this artist who has spent his life assailing the commercial consumerism of the establishment, now faces the crisis of conscience. Red is playing at the beautiful theater “The Stage” www.thestage.org , in San Jose. Stage is set to be the studio of Mark Rothko with hanging murals in rich tapestry of colors that glow with the change in lighting, from shiny and grand to more intimate and human. Kudos to Cathleen King, the Executive Director, for bringing this bold play, at The Stage.