"White. A blank page or canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities." The famous lyric from Stephen Sondheim's brilliant Sunday in the Park with George which highlights the life of French artist Georges Seurat.
I thought of that terrific musical as I entered the Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater.
One is ensonced in an artist's studio which is realistically created by two time Tony winner Todd Rosenthal. There are the two high windows in each on the stage to bring in natural light. There's the huge canvas in the middle. There are the paint brushes, the chemicals to mix the paint, the working sink, and one adirondeck chair in the middle for the artist Mark Rothko (brilliantly played by Edward Gero). I've had an opportunity to visit an artist's studio in Baltimore belonging to the former head of the Paint Department of the Maryland Institute of Art, Raoul Middleman, and his studio is very similar.
Playwright John Logan received a Tony Award for his play. It premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London and then moved to the Golden Theatre on Broadway (which starred Alfred Molina). Arena Stage co-produced this production with Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Chicago native Patrick Andrews recreates his role as Ken who is hired to be Rothko's apprentice. It's his job to mix the paint, stretch the canvas, and get the coffee. Andrews is just plain terrific. He begins his role as a naive and young artist and by the end of the intermissionless play, has grown in stature and knowledge about art.
The play not only deals with the work, the process, and the philosophy of the artist, it deals with relationships. After being together for two years, Ken finally has the chutzpah to mention that the artist knows nothing about him.
Director Robert Falls (artistic director of the Goodman Theatre since 1986) does a marvleous job.
A highlight of the evening is when Rothko and Ken dance around a canvas which they fill with red paint. The choreography must be concise to avoid bumping into each other. When the white canvas is finally completed and turned red, Rothko likes up a cigarette. Need I say more??
Set in New York City in the late 1950's, the play concerns a $35,000 commission the artist received to design murals to be hung in the brand new Seagrams Bulding's expensive Four Season's restaurant.
For some I'm sure for some, the play is "like watching painting dry." But for others, it is a dynamic piece of theater about a powerful and distinguished artist who has a problem relating to people.
I'm not going to recommend it beacause of the play itself but because of the two magnficient performances by Gero and Andrews. That's why you shouldn't miss it.
Red has been extended at the Kreeger Theatre to March 11, 2012.
The "Seagram Murals" will be on display at the National Gallergy of Art through August 15.
The Phillips Collection is known for its Rothko Room.
For related events, visit http://www.arenastage.org/shows-tickets/the-season/productions/red/events/.
Playing in the Kogod Cradle is Elephant Room through Feb. 26, 2012.