After the mess that was Los Otros, it was a bit hard to convince Dan to give The Mark Taper Forum, another chance. I love the Taper and have mostly had great experiences with their shows, although occasionally they produce a clunker. I even told Dan that the Taper was my favorite place. He countered with, "More than Disneyland?". Yes. I love Disney, but nothing beats the magic of being in a room and having amazing writing and performing envelope you. Disney can't compete.
John Logan's Tony award winning play, Red, was one of those magical theater experiences. The story covers a span of two years, during which artist Mark Rothko is working on his Seagram Murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan. Red blurs the lines of reality by introducing the fictional character of Ken as Rothko's art assistant. Ken is a young artist himself and he pokes at Rothko's ideas of mortality, the meaning of art and the idea of becoming obsolete.
Rothko is a difficult character to like and Alfred Molina ( reprising his originating role) does a great job at pushing the audience away and pulling them closer. His character's dialogue is rapid fire and sharp, often laden with humor and layered with subtext. I felt that I could have seen this play many times and walked away with a new perspective each time. Jonathan Groff was cast as Ken. I wasn't so sure about Groff at first, he's just so darn cute, but he was perfectly cast and held his own with Molina. Both actors were so good, that it will be difficult to associate them with any other role. Really outstanding.
As with any great story, the real magic is in the writing. The writing in this show really makes you think and keep thinking about it long after walking out of the theater. The use of color and talking about color is a major theme. Not just the color red, but also black and white. Without giving away too much of the specifics in the story, because if you are reading this, you must make an effort to see or read this play, the writing about color mirrors the way we view art. Art is a personal experience. No two people will view a piece of art the same way. When the characters are talking about color, it's the same idea. Every person has a different emotion and perspective with a color.
The character of Ken talking about the color white being a terrifying color to him. He mentions white as the color of hospitals with their glaring lights. When he mentioned it, that made me realize that I also have the same aversion to the color white and mint green, the color of hospital walls, but I never connected it. Rothko doesn't think of white as the color of doom, he goes with the more traditional black, which Ken doesn't find fearful at all. As Ken and Rothko are listing colors and imagery, every person in the audience is having a unique and personal experience, the written word, performance and visual arts smashing to create an overall experience.
The play is filled with fantastic monologues from both characters. I think every kid in art school will be using Ken's monologue from the end of the play. It was this great outburst that was long coming in the show.
GO SEE THIS SHOW!!! It's only at the Taper for a few more performances and is sold out, but they have a standby line to fill the no-show seats. It's completely worth it.
Rothko slit his wrists in 1970 and was found dead in his apartment by his real life assistant, Oliver Steindecker, the very same day that his Seagram Murals were to be displayed at the Tate Gallery in London.
At the end of the play, Rothko's death is foreshadowed. Ken finds Rothko disoriented with his wrists covered in red paint, which he first thinks is blood. I wish that I had known enough about Rothko to catch this foreshadowing during the show. It's such a well done scene and brings out the theme of humanity, which is often discussed in the show.