THE SIGNATURE COLOR IS “RED” AT WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE
The abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko modestly placed his art in the same company as Michelangelo and Matisse. As one of the famous postwar American artists, he was noted in his later career for his form and color and the large canvases of rectangles that featured his signature color red or vermillion, crimson, scarlet, plum, ruby or maroon in all its aspects and particularities. Born Marcus Rothkovitz in Russia in 1903, he created more than eight hundred paintings in his lifetime, a few breaking auction house selling records at $22.5 million, $30 million and even $72.8 million.
Westport Country Playhouse is inviting you to enter Rothko’s studio and personally meet the artist in question in playwright John Logan’s revealing and intimate drama “RED” that takes one period in the life of Mark Rothko and focuses a spotlight on it. Until Sunday, May 29, you can get inside the head of Rothko and explore to your heart’s content.
Before he picked up a paintbrush and saw art as a life’s journey for both religious and emotional expression, he dabbled with work in the garment district of New York and with acting in Portland, Oregon. The play “RED” deals with a period when he has found some artistic success, with Peggy Guggenheim as a patron, has works hanging in the Museum of Modern Art and with solo shows at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Architects Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, designers of a new building on Park Avenue, the Seagram edifice, want Rothko to accept a new commission, to provide a series of murals for its luxury restaurant, The Four Seasons. This challenging project, with a price tag of $30,000, for which he paints forty large canvases, with horizontal and rectangular shapes in a variety of shades of red, consumes him.
Stephen Rowe is staggeringly strong as Rothko in all his bombastic and egotistical splendor, a man obsessed as much by his talents as by his doubts. To him, his larger than life paintings are a “continuous narrative...10% paint on canvas, 90% thinking.” He wants to make the restaurant a temple and, at the same time, make it impossible for the patrons to eat anything while sitting under his work.To him, there is "tragedy in every brush stroke” and he agonizes to make sure his art speaks for itself.
Rothko hires a young assistant, portrayed by an eager-to-learn Patrick Andrews, who gets quite an education under Rothko’s abrasive and intimidating tutelage as he helps the master prepare the blank canvases, intimidating in their stark whiteness.The student bows down to his mentor, accepting abuse until he explodes in a virulent speech meant to cut Rothko down to size. Director Mark Lamos illuminates this dramatic play of insights and aspirations with a keen eye for detail. Lamos has paired this play with “ART” by Yasmina Reza, in repertory, for a full frontal attack on this fascinating world.
For tickets ($30 and up), call Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport at 203-227-4177 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org. Performances are on odd-numbered days, Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. “ART” will be performed on even-numbered days.
Will Mark Rothko compromise his artistic principles if he completes a series of monumental murals for a commercial venue? Come to his studio, hand him a paintbrush, stand at his side and discover the intriguing answer for yourself.