A Review by Danielle Hayden
I don’t know how wild you get on weekends, but I enjoy nights where I get crazy and listen to some of that sweet Socratic dialogue. This past weekend, I had the immense pleasure of viewing John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play Red at Redmond’s SecondStory Repertory theater. The audience sat rapt with attention as we were invited into the mind and musings of Mark Rothko, arguably one of the most pioneering painters of the 20th century.
It’s hard to pinpoint what, precisely, makes Red so special. And that’s not due to any lack of laudable attributes, either. On the contrary: Is it the talented twosome whose dynamic is strong and compelling, giving credence to the Aristotelian belief that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’? Perhaps, but it could be the witty repartee, the abundant displays of intellectual prowess (a delight to any Jeopardy fan like myself!), the fact that the play makes you think as well as feel in equal measure, or the artwork gracing the stage.
It also might be because it’s just a damn entertaining thing to watch from beginning to end; I daresay something that even folks who aren’t typically “into the theater” could enjoy.
Scott C. Brown stars as Rothko, and his portrayal of the abstract expressionist is spectacular. The script itself is brilliant, but Brown brings the words to life with this curmudgeonly, yet complex character. John Logan’s Rothko is often harsh, but his tough exterior masks a softness and insecurity that emerges in moments. It is an uncommon occurrence, this soft side, but refreshing as it adds dimension and nuance as the scenes progress.
To get a glimpse of Rothko’s humanity enhances the experience. In between his barking (albeit some of the most fluid and quotable barking I’ve ever heard) and diatribes, (which flow from a face as red as his canvas), we see a man terrified of the abyss that is the unknown, of mediocrity, of the eventual relegation to shopping center simulacra that befalls many talented artists.
Ken, Rothko’s assistant, is played by the talented Alan E. Garcia. Though Ken is green in many ways, he is also wise and challenges his employer to reconsider an entire belief system, which is no easy feat considering Rothko’s disposition. It’s a symbiotic relationship, with both men strengthening one another personally, professionally and rather reluctantly, in Rothko’s case. Ken finds his own voice as the play progresses, learning who he is—and who he wants to be—as an artist and as a human being. Red displays all this somehow without feeling like I’m watching the cliché “mean master” and ”timid apprentice” relationship for the thousandth time. Red feels fresh, not hackneyed.
Red was first performed in December of 2009 and it is no surprise why the work has endured for nearly a decade. Aside from the aforementioned phenomenal writing, the play’s rich themes are timeless, which likely contribute to this longevity. Much like Rothko’s aesthetic, there is little risk to relevance enduring over time. Unfortunately, however, Red has a short run at SecondStory. So make haste! Go see the work if you can; you will be better for it.
Red plays from January 18th – February 2nd at the SecondStory Repertory Theater in Redmond.
Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and proofreader. When not surrounded by words, she enjoys watching films (note: the book is almost always better), learning new things, and attending cool events around the city.