SEEING “RED” AT HFT. THEATREWORKS
By Marlene S. Gaylinn
Abstract, expressionist paintings are highly subjective. Like music, dance, and all other forms of contemporary art, these works are subject to the artist’s as well as each individual’s interpretation. So what makes a particular painter great and his work highly prized? Is it based on a talent to innovate or an acquired knack to develop the right connections? Or, is abstract art a complete sham -- like “The Emperor’s New Clothes?” Who are the experts and is the artwork really good “...simply because “I” say it is.” The play “Red,” examines these and similar questions in relation to Mark Rothko who had philosophical conflicts when architect Philip Johnson commissioned him to paint a mural for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City.
Like all colors, the color red has various shades. Determining what each tone signifies to an individual can take on deeper meanings. To some people, “red” signifies blood, horror and death. To others, it means life-giving energy. Politically, many associate “Red” with loyalty, patriotism, revolution and Communism. Playwright John Logan indicates that because Rothko had socialist sympathies, it bothered him that wealthy patrons of the Four Seasons would primarily come there to eat and show off -- NOT to appreciate his red, abstract masterpieces. Rothko was also egocentric and had a lot of other quirks commonly associated with artists. Logan’s play nicely depicts the conflicting shades of this particular artist’s personality.
Tazewell Thompson directs Jonathan Epstein (Rothko), and Thomas Leverton (Rothko’s young assistant) with great sensitivity. Both actors are so believable that when the play ends, everyone will surely see red -- as it was meant to be. On second thought, perhaps each individual might view this outstanding color differently.