It is the late 1950’s, and artist Mark Rothko has hired a young painter named Ken to assist him in his Bowery studio.
This event is the enticing incident for the play Red by John Logan, the current offering at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.
Red is the color of passion…and so Red is an appropriate title for this play.
If playwright Logan is correct, Rothko was a passionate man about painting as well as a cantankerous egotist, who was impossible to please. If you say “white,” he’d say “black” and vice versa. Jeff Still captures the swagger and bravado of Rothko, always uncompromising, always argumentative and with a cold edge. As he often reminds Ken, his young assistant, “You are an employee.”
As Ken, Jack Cutmore-Scott has a slow start, but builds to a powerfully emotional climax. Ken harbors a dark secret, and Cutmore-Scott does a brilliant job when it’s time to reveal that secret. He also does an amazing job when Ken finally confronts his boss.
Both men do a phenomenal job, filling the large O’Reilly Theatre with heated talk about Matisse, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, life, color and the role of the artist.
The production could easily become mired into a static discussion between two artists, but director Pamela Berlin masterfully keeps her two cast members moving—wisely reserving stillness for the play’s most emotional moments. My only concern was the long set changes, performed by the actors. Some of them took so long that the momentum of the previous scene was lost, and the actors had to begin each new scene from square one.
Michael Schweikardt’s detailed set beautifully depicts an old indoor basketball court transformed into an artist’s atelier. From the glass block windows to the old bricks walls and the worn hardwood floor, the set is perfect. It even features running water.
Late in the play, Rothko remarks, “I am always fascinated by me.” I think audiences will also find Rothko fascinating in this top-notch production.
It’s well –worth seeing.
Red runs through December 11.