22 March to 5 May 2012, MTC Sumner Theatre, Southbank, Melbourne.
Starring: Colin Friels and André de Vanny
Directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos
Written by John Logan
"What do you see?"
Welcome to the world of one of the most passionate, philosophical yet self-absorbed abstract artists of the 1950s: Mark Rothko (Friels). In an hour and a half you will be exposed to the fundamentals of an artist and what drives him to passionately express his emotions on canvases.
Red follows the creation of a series of murals that Mark Rothko was commissioned to paint for a new building of revolutionary architecture in New York. His murals were to hang in the Four Seasons restaurant in 1958. Enter young aspiring artist Ken (de Vanny) to assist Mark Rothko with "anything but painting".
Within Rothko's studio the paintings and relationship develops as respect and love grows between each artist. Their passionate bantering soon heightens to arguments and then to full-on hot-headed outbursts as they both defend, criticise and express their opinions.
Cubism was the father and expressionism was the child. "The child must banish the father. Respect him, but kill him," says Rothko. However, as pop art begins to flourish, Rothko finds that his paintings are "too good" for ungrateful modern society. He withdraws his paintings from the contract and returns the commission.
I left the theatre with a new sense of appreciation for art - and artists, for that matter. Friels manages to zone into the mind of Mark Rothko effortlessly, allowing the audience to see the world through his eyes. The play reflects where he was at that point in time, and the Seagram Mural series, which he produced for the Four Seasons commission, but withheld from exhibition until 1968, acts as a monument to the amazing artist that he was.
I recognised Andre de Vanny's name and face from his starring role in the television series Wicked Science and in a recent short film Nice Shootin' Cowboy. He is a 2009 graduate of the Melbourne-based 16th Street Acting Studio. Red is his first appearance with MTC, but we can certainly expect to see his face more in the future.
Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Play, Red is raw passion in its purest form. Logan, best known for screenplays such as Gladiator, The Aviator and the recently released Hugo, has captured Rothko's ability to express himself without regard to society's expectations.
Logan was first inspired by seven of the Seagram Murals that hung in Rothko Room in the Tate Modern Art Gallery in London. He was speechless in the presence of such striking and compelling paintings and knew at once that he "had to write about that haunted man and those paintings of his where there's tragedy in every brushstroke". During the writing process Logan even contacted artists he knew in order to gain a deeper understanding of painting and art.
"What do you see?"
Red is an intellectual insight into not only the mind of Mark Rothko but also the inner workings of what it means to express oneself.
4 out of 5.
For more theatre reviews, check out our Reviews Archive.