The aptly titled Red is a stage show about artist Mark Rothko. Personally, I had never heard of Rothko before now. He was a painter, who didn’t really relate to any particular movement – although apparently many place him in the abstract expressionist camp. Over the course of the play we follow Rothko, and his assistant Ken over a time period of roughly one year. Set entirely in his New York art studio, the story follows Rothko’s project of paintings for the Four Seasons and the trials and tribulations as Ken argues with Rothko’s ideas and ideals on colours and painting.
The play was written by John Logan and it has seen moderate success since its initial run back in 2009. While I can’t speak for his work in theatre, John Logan is a name I have come across a number of times in film. I’m very split on my thoughts of Logan’s work. On the one hand, I do (usually) like his dialogue. It’s well written, poetic and at times even grand. His dialogue alone is worthy of theatre. I also have a strange admiration for him taking stories that are just bare-bones and working to put meat on them. But that brings us back to the problem I have with his writing – it is over-indulgent at times. And, because of the bare-bones of his story, there are times when I just can’t get invested in his work because I have nothing to go back on with it. I will always appreciate the likes of Gladiator and Rango (although the script wasn’t the selling point with those either), but I will likewise be reminded of Alien: Covenant and Bats.
That is Red’s problem. It’s impressive dialogue with some very interesting philosophy – to one of the characters the colour black means death and decay, and to the other white means brutal murder and agony. I also liked the transitions between scenes – how the actors would move the canvases or paint in the background, an interesting way to do it. Even the sets worked at conveying the image of a rundown studio in the dark nights of New York City. But it all leads to nothing in a way. Yes, the characters discuss with each other and we learn about them, but it doesn’t lead to much. Rothko makes a decision about his art pieces and the story is over. Being unfamiliar with the man didn’t help matters for me either.
But this is not the plays core – that is on the performances. I can’t say that I’m familiar with Alfred Enoch, but the man does a good job. He comes off as being charismatic and eager to learn, yet never naive and willing to fight for his beliefs. He delivers his lines with confidence and gravitas. But he is overshadowed by Rothko actor, the great and criminally underrated Alfred Molina. There are few actors out there today who can fit into any role with this much ease. I struggle to think of a bad performance the man has done, if he even has done any. Every time he spoke I was captivated. It feels like he was born to play this role, but then again, I could say that about numerous characters that Molina has brought to life.
Red is not a show that I would watch again, but it was a mostly pleasant experience. It didn’t captivate me as well as I think it wanted to. If you are a fan of art and intelligent discussions and theatrics then I would recommend Red. It just wasn’t a story in my colour.
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