Theater Review: ‘Red’ — Mark Rothko’s conflicted work

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

The Goodman’s latest production, directed by Robert Falls, examines the art of Mark Rothko and his determination to protect the newest of Abstract Expressionism. In 1958, he was commissioned to create a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. Playwright John Logan, best known for his work as a screen writer, uses only two actors to tell Rothko’s intriguing story.

Edward Gero returns to the Goodman, where he last appeared as Gloucester in King Lear. As Rothko, he generates an energy that fills the stage. Patrick Andrews is Ken, Rothko’s assistant. He has multiple Chicago credits, and with Gero, keeps every moment of the 90-minute production at a level of intensity that many actors would find difficult to maintain.

Rothko’s life story would provide every detail for a play just about his growth as an artist and the difficulties he faced when as Jewish Russian immigrants, his family came to this country. His alienation caused him to drop out of Yale and join the emerging art group “whose mission was to protest against the reputed equivalence of American painting and Literal painting.” Logan has created an imaginary character in Ken. This young man is also a painter, but is completely dominated by Rothko. It is his amazing ability to transform the relationship that gives the production its focus. We are completely swept away by the interaction between Andrews and Gero.

The soaring set by Todd Rosenthal encompasses every detail of the artist’s studio. His huge canvases center the stage, and when lighted, “the RED” pulls us in. Significant as the color in the paintings, it is the word itself that so impacts the early lives of these two men. There is paint everywhere, in buckets, on the floor, and finally after an energetic prepping of a canvas, covering the artists themselves. The works are refereed to as “emotionally raw.” They literally reflect the agony of the artist.

Red has already been extended until Oct. 30. I’m sure tickets will go fast. For information, call the Goodman Theatre at (312) 443-3800. It may be the hit of the season.

From the Oct. 5-11, 2011, issue

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