Thursday, February 16, 2012

theatre review RED, George Street Playhouse, February 12

The Tony winning play Red is having it's New Jersey premiere this month in an excellent production at the George Street Playhouse.   Based on a two year period in the life of the expressionist abstract painter Mark Rothko, the play by John Logan won the Tony Award for Best Play two years ago. 

Bob Ari and Randy Harrison
Red is set in Rothko's New York City studio in the late 1950's when Rothko has been commissioned to create a series of murals to hang on the walls of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York's Seagrams building.  Red is a play of many layers.  On one hand it is the story of a teacher and a student, on another the story of a man trying to hold on to what he believes art is and how no one truly sees it the way he does, let alone the up and coming crop of "pop" artists like Andy Warhol.   On another level it shows the shifting balance between the young and the old as the uneducated youth becomes just as knowledgeable as the older teacher.  And it is also the tale of a man with many demons who talks about his eventual suicide as if that is the only way his life could possibly end.  Interestingly, Rothko was a painter of layers, with thin layers of paint layered on top of other thin layers of other paint colors so those colors would sometimes show through the other layers.  Logan has expertly created a play in line with the way Rothko created his art.

Rothko is portrayed by Bob Ari and Ari is giving a well thought out and fully fleshed out performance, one where Rothko is a pompous, egotistical man,  full of himself, self centered and set in his ways but truly afraid of the new crop of younger artists that are now on the scene.  Sure, he might toss off these individuals with contempt and as having nothing in common with himself, but he, and we, know that there is also a fear of what's "hot" and trendy that also make him despise these new artists.   You see, Rothko is at the point in his life when he thinks that basically no one except himself is worthy of viewing, let alone owning, one of his paintings.  He believes everyone simply views his paintings as a commodity and that no one truly sees the pain and beauty in his work.

The assistant Ken, played by Randy Harrison, is at first in awe of Rothko but over the course of the 100 minute play, and the two year period the play covers, he begins to question Rothko's ideas of what a painter is and what paintings stand for and eventually strikes back at Rothko verbally in an emotional monologue toward the end of the play.   That speech, handled expertly by Harrison, truly shows Rothko how wrong his views are as well as how the younger up and coming artists might actually know more then he does.  It is at the end of this moment when Rothko truly sees Ken as his equal.

Both actors are so passionate in their performances, not only with the way they inhibit the characters but also with the one scene where they are painting the base layer on a canvas as well as the way they handle the sometimes difficult dialogue.   And while Ari's performance is layered it is really Harrison who's character grows the most over the play.  Quiet and unsure of himself in the beginning he grows into someone of self assurance and confidence.

Vividly directed by Anders Canto with lighting by Dan Kotlowitz that includes an amazingly lit scene toward the end of the play, Red plays through February 26th.

George Street Playhouse Official Site

Short preview of the show

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