Originally reviewed for GaySocialites.com.
Alfred Molina, playing great American abstract painter Mark Rothko in Red, makes you feel that the act of painting is the noblest thing one could possibly do, the only thing really worth doing. You feel like you should be painting, and asking the same questions about painting that Rothko does, demanding as much from art as he does.
Playwright John Logan shows us Rothko in 1958, having received an immense commission: he is to create a series of murals for the then-new Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue. Rothko hires a young assistant, Ken (played by Eddie Redmayne) to help him finish this immense task.
At the heart of the play are exchanges, often heated ones, between Rothko and Ken, about art. It is to Logan’s great credit that these conversations never become dry or academic; art is vitally important to both Ken and Rothko, and we are made to feel their passion in a very immediate way.
Rothko’s high seriousness is both inspiring and challenging to anyone involved in the arts. At times Rothko asks too much of both art and people; Logan has wisely used the character of Ken to give articulate voice to criticisms a person could validly level at Rothko — a person who cares as deeply about art as Rothko does, but thinks differently about it. Rothko, in his turn, is allowed to defend himself, sometime intelligently, sometimes irrationally.
Personally, I find art and intellect very hot, and Red is very sexy indeed in the fervent hands of Molina (all weighty, glowering intensity) and Redmayne (all wiry, youthful zeal). Director Michael Grandage keeps the ball bouncing with great concentration, never letting the pace lag for a second. I haven’t been as stimulated in a Broadway theatre, in all different kinds of ways, for quite some time.
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