My good friend, BosGuy invited me to a night at the theater. Not one to turn down something for free, I happily accepted having absolutely no clue what we were going to see. Once he told me it was a play called Red at the SpeakEasy Stage, I looked it up and thought I was not happy any more as it looked heavy and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I could not have been more wrong.
Red depicts the story of abstract expressionist artist, Mark Rothko. A fictional story in Rothko’s life that is a dark and sometimes funny two man play currently showing at the Calderwood Theater (SpeakEasy Stage).
I knew nothing of Rothko so I had no idea what we were in for. After watching the play, I immediately needed to know more. This play truly is a force to be reckoned with and absolutely deserving of the six Tony’s it won.
Rothko was one of the most well-know artists from the 1950s. The actor portrayed him as an angry, self-indulgent ego maniac, who cared for no-one else except himself. The world was not good enough to put their eyes on his work, which to him had to move and speak to the viewer evoking some sort of emotion.
The play takes place in 1958 with Rothko receiving a handsome commission to create four large paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, which leaves him tortured with feelings of being a sell-out. To help with this commission he hires an assistant and the barrage of yelling and pushing begins as the play spans two years of their relationship. On looking at a painting… “What do you see?” he asks his assistant over and over again. “Red” was all he finally replied. There is more to this story as the play unfolds.
Actors Thomas Derrah as Rothko and Karl Baker Olson as Ken his assistant (both locals) are absolutely superb and have brilliant chemistry on stage. Rothko is played as a chain smoking, heavy drinking, obnoxious and unlikeable character and I struggled to find anything endearing about him at all. I could not relate to his “tortured artist” pain, which made the play even more compelling to watch as his rants went on an on directed at his assistant and fellow artists. I must admit there are some sharp witted one-liners regarding Jackson Pollack and other well know artists that had me laughing out loud.
His assistant is tortured in a different way and you can feel his pain as he struggles to become a painter in his own right by studying and trying to understand Rothko’s mind.
I am personally not a fan of abstract art. I just don’t get it, so therefore it’s hard for me to appreciate and understand it. I did, however enjoy every single minute of this compelling play.
Red is currently playing through February 4 at the Calderwood Pavilion on Tremont Street in the South End. Have a night at the theater for a change; you will be happy you did. I know I was.
Check out the SpeakEasyStage.com for tickets.