Seen On Broadway: Red is a thoroughly interesting two-man, one-act play at The Golden Theatre—an import from the Donmar Warehouse in London. Written by Academy Award-nominee (The Aviator, Gladiator) John Logan, and directed by Olivier/Tony winner Michael Grandage, Red is based on the angst of painter Mark Rothko, played more than convincingly by Alfred Molina, and a young assistant (Olivier Award winner, Eddie Redmayne) who spar intellectually about art. The action is set during the time that Rothko is becoming an art star and wrestling with the moral integrity of a large commission of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City, which opened in 1958: in his heart of hearts he knows this is not the proper home for his work, that is paintings would in effect become the “over mantles” he rails against.
The Rothko in Red delights in the fact that his generation wiped out the one before, yet storms at the next generation that risks to dethrone his. He wanted a temple where people could worship his art, not a loud noisy restaurant where the power diners might not even notice it (ironically the Mies van der Rohe/Philip Johnson designed restaurant does have a collection of modern art, but not a Rothko. His murals are at the Tate Modern instead).
Designed by Christopher Oram (sets), Neil Austin (lighting), and Adam Cork (music and sound), the production is set in Rothko’s studio, complete with the period stage lighting he used, having blacked out all the windows to keep out the natural light. Yet the lighting rig is perhaps the smallest on Broadway (more on the lighting: Red Recreates Rothko Realm)
The studio comes alive on stage: there is a sink on one wall, an old table with a hot plate and paints, and a blue Adirondack chair, faithful to Rothko’s own chair. Much of the rhythm of the play comes from moving the large paintings around the studio—lifting them on and off of a large frame on wheels, and with a series of pulleys that allow the paintings to hang upright in various places on the stage. The theatre is stripped all the way to the back wall and the ceiling, adding to the gritty nature of the studio concept.
There is a heart-stopping moment—a prelude to Rothko’s eventual suicide in 1970. Red reflects many meanings in the painter’s life, from pigment to blood, and while the play centers on a short period in his life, it is a window into the soul of this Russian-born artist who remains one of the most celebrated painters of the 20th century.
Sound: Sound Associates
Period lighting fixtures: PRG Europe
Set and canvases painted by: Richard Nutbourne
Additional painting: Scenic Art Studios