Additionally, in the New York production, the Rothko role was played by the great, but scenery chewing, Alfred Molina. The idea of watching Molina embody the unchecked ego of a great artist and rage and howl for 90 minutes, seemed like a safe, predictable and self-indulgent experience for both actor and audience. Its interesting how the premiere casting of a play can work on our perception and interpretation of it.
|Denis Arndt as Mark Rothko|
|A minimalistically elaborate set|
|Seagram Murals at the Tate Modern|
|Connor Toms as Ken|
Director White and his team here have created a richly layered experience here, one that allows the audience to slow down, reflect and gaze at the performance as much as follow its action. The contrast of light and dark, the pulsing and movement that Rothko talks about are all present here washing over the audience again and again, scene after scene like cascading waves on a beach that, when the stillness of the final scene arrives, delivers a unexpected surprise as to how far we have journeyed from the shore.
Red plays at Seattle Repertory Theater runs through March 24
There is a Mark Rothko exhibit currently at the Portland Art Museum on display through May 27.
I had some trouble with the play itself. The best things that can be said for it, is that it is light handed enough to allow artists like these to create such a fine evening of theater from it. The role of Ken is such a device to get Rothko talking that we almost loose his humanity (again hats off to Connor Toms), which is probably why we get the obligatory sad and tragic personal story about Tom's family that does little for the play except give the actor a nice juicy moment and introduce Ken's absence of a father figure.
That said there was one moment in the play that didn't quite live up to its potential in this production (spoiler coming, so please skip this paragraph if you don't want anything given away). In the final scene of the play it calls for Rothko to be "slumped awkwardly on the floor, gazing up at the central picture." When Ken enters and turns on some lights, Ken "stops - it is a shocking sight. Rothko's hands and arms are dripping with red. It is paint, but it looks just like blood." Ken thinks Rothko, who has alluded to suicide before, has slit his wrists. He freaks out for a moment and then realizes it is paint. In this production, Arndt is not slumped awkwardly, as one might be if they were loosing blood, or in this case had a had a few drinks. Nor is the paint that is used blood red but more clay colored and does not look for even a split second to the audience like Rothko has slit his wrists. Actually, the audience is confused at why Ken is freaking out. Its clearly paint, the same paint that has been used throughout the entire evening. The real Rothko did end up committing suicide by slitting his wrists and clearly the playwright included this as a bit of foreshadowing. What a difference is they had delivered to the audience the same shock that Ken feels.
This is a surprising miss, but ultimately a very minor criticism in what is a wonderfully successful production.