Monday, June 07, 2010

Depends What Colour Your Glasses Are - Red - Play Review

Red - Golden Theater - Broadway, New York, NY - ****1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by John Logan, Directed by Michael Grandage
Runs until June 27th 2010

The new 2 character play Red might be like its subject Mark Rothko's paintings, simple at first view, complex and layered with deeper contemplation, but I thought the play itself is just deceptively simple. Maybe like how some would see Rothko's paintings. Or maybe it's because the play regurgitates every debate that has happened in art school, but I didn't find Logan's play finding any new ground in talking about art, but as with Rothko's painting's, Grandage (with the help of Christopher Oram's designs and Neil Austin's lighting) puts on a bold and fascinating piece that still manages to capture the audience, despite if they know exactly what they are seeing or are supposed to see.

The production, direct from the Donmar Warehouse, is a beautifully simplistic set of work sessions scenes between the famed artist Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) and Ken (Eddie Redmayne), a young apprentice he hires to do his grunt work. Rothko has no interest in anything but a pure assistant, yet ends up spewing his thoughts and teachings while Ken tries to insert some of his own thoughts about art. Again, none of the discussions are brand new, but it may be a great intro into the art world for the general public (I sat through years of studios and critiques sitting around easels so I that's probably why I found nothing new in the discussions here).

Logan takes a little time to get things set up and rolling, but once Rothko and Ken start prepping a canvas with rollers, the play starts gliding along nicely, bringing the discussions of art into a nice tight light. Grandage and the design team manage to beautifully convey the loneliness and yearning-human connection in an artists studio, all while even a famed painter can secretly start second guessing his own artistic decisions.

The play manages to slowly increase the deep hues and intensity through Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne's colourful performances. Molina's Rothko is immense and powerful, a voice of unwavering opinion, or at least that's he wants to think of himself as. As Eddie Redmayne's Ken starts poking into Rothko's logic and artistic stance, Molina becomes even more solid as Ken's saturation hits its limits.

Eddie Redmayne's performance as Ken, an young emerging artist himself, slowly changes in courageousness and boldness, and Redmayne serves up a bright and fresh performance (whose wavering accent is probably the only drawback).

While I think the play thinks it's smarter than it actually is, I still found it thoroughly enjoyable and never boring, and it was nice to hear the prototypical art debates shown in a nice dramatic fashion without dumbing it down (yes Yasmina Reza, I'm poking fun at your Art, which really is about friendship, or actually nothing). Red's tone is just right, and Grandage conducts the two astounding actors through a cleverly stylistic play about two artists, one famed, one not, and about the art they produce create.

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