Arts & Entertainment
'Red' comes through with flying color
By Martin F. Kohn
Originally printed 5/3/2012 (Issue 2018 - Between The Lines News)
You may have had one great professor in college - or two, if you were lucky - who knew so much about so many things and spun them together so creatively that, even if the class wasn't in your favorite subject, you wouldn't skip his or her lectures for a good night's sleep or a guaranteed A.
That pretty much describes the painter Mark Rothko as playwright John Logan presents him in "Red," with the vital assistance at Ann Arbor's Performance Network of Mark Rademacher, who plays Rothko, and director Carla Milarch. "Red" takes place in the artist's New York studio, not a classroom, and it isn't a lecture but a conversation, so as long as we're handing out plaudits, score one for Kevin Young as Rothko's young assistant, Ken, and another for designer and assistant director Monika Essen.
The Rothko of "Red" speaks of the feeling of movement created when he makes colors, like the black and red he favors, rub up against each other. Not coincidentally, Rothko himself is in a place where inspiration rubs up against commerce and the resultant tension is nearly physical. The play is set in 1958 and 1959, when Rothko was commissioned to do a series of paintings for the walls of a new high-end restaurant, the Four Seasons, in a new New York office building.
It's a situation that gives Rothko plenty to talk about, and the arrival of his new assistant gives him someone to talk to. But this is no one-man play; Ken isn't just there to give the main guy time to breathe between questions, he is character as much realized as Rothko - which is to say, not fully, but complete within the boundaries of the play.
And again, the vital tension engendered by the juxtaposition of two differing entities, beginning with Ken's the first day of work as the artist's assistant: He shows up wearing a suit and the paint-spattered Rothko straightens him out in a hurry.
Rademacher is very much the disheveled painter, never the cliche mad artist or absent-minded professor but someone from the same neighborhood of eccentrics. And Logan certainly gives him the best lines ("Nature doesn't work for me: The light's no good") which the thoroughly convincing Rademacher delivers with the verve, and tobacco-smoked New York accent, of a Borscht Belt comedian.
Where Rademacher, as the established and accomplished Rothko, must (and does) maintain a certain consistency, Young as assistant Ken, transforms from a timid, almost cowering neophyte tiptoeing around the Great Man, into someone who calls out his mentor and gives as good as he gets. Fortunately, at the point when this seems to come out of nowhere, we are told that Ken has been working for Rothko for two years.
For all the play's verbal give-and-take, the unforgettable scene is wordless, almost balletic, as Ken and Rothko, with their backs to us, prime a massive canvass, wielding and waving their brushes in perfect counterpoise.
Not a bad metaphor for "Red" itself, a session you definitely don't want to skip, even for a good night's sleep or a guaranteed A.
Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. Thursday-Sunday through May 26. 80 minutes without intermission. $22-41. 734-663-0681. http://www.PerformanceNetwork.org
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