BWW Reviews: RED at Tennessee Repertory Theatre
Tennessee Repertory Theatre is currently running a production of Red by John Logan. This play was originally done as part of their REPaloud series a few years ago, and a full production finally made it to Tennessee Rep. With direction by René D. Copeland, as well as some amazing scenic and lighting design by Gary Hoff and Michael Barnett, respectively, Red is the kind of show that brings visual and performing arts together while transporting the audience to a very specific time in history.
Here's the thing about visual arts: they aren't really my thing. I've never known much about the art world beyond the basics. Because of that, I walked in the theatre to see Red, having no idea who Mark Rothko was. I know I have artist friends who are gasping in horror right now. I had done no real research on the play, beyond a basic summary. Because of that I felt like I got a very unique experience.
Red shares the story of famed artist Mark Rothko during a two year period in which he worked on a set of murals that he was commissioned to paint in the newly constructed Seagram Building, in the Four Seasons dining room. Taking place in Rothko's New York City studio (an old gymnasium) during the years of 1958 and 1959, the set design and lighting are as much a character of the play as the small cast of two. Red is certainly a story that leaves the audience thinking, and it becomes obvious very early on what kind of mood will be cast. From the very beginning of the show, as the audience filters into the theatre, the music and lighting set a serious, heavy feel that carries throughout the rest of the show.
During the show, Rothko is seen only in interaction with his assistant, Ken. The character of Ken wasn't based on a specific person, though Rothko did have several assistants during his career, including one during the time period that the play takes place. I learned this interesting fact during a talk-back after the performance (along with some other interesting points).
Mark Rothko, played by Chip Arnold, exhibits all the classic signs of the stereo-typical "crazy" artist. He's mood, ill-tempered, and self-absorbed. At times he treats Ken horribly. But throughout the play we see how intellectually complex Rothko is. Chip Arnold takes a polarizing character and makes you see right past that and into the mind of an artistic genius. The many aspects of Rothko are enough to keep the audience waiting for the next outrageous (or profound) statement to come out of his mouth.
Ken is almost as complex as his employer. Played by Benjamin Reed, Ken seems young and naive at first, but it's quickly apparent that he is doing everything he can to get as much out of his employer as possible. He wants to learn, but he is also appalled at Rothko's behavior much of the time. Benjamin Reed makes Ken seem like he will be a secondary character in the story at first, but quickly turns Ken into the other half of the show. Reed makes Ken such a major part of the show, often standing toe to toe with Rothko, yet knowing when to back down.
From beginning to end, Red takes the audience to a very special moment in time, and into the mind of an artistic genius. If you are a lover of the visual arts, you'll truly appreciate Red. If you don't really care for visual arts, you'll come out wanting to learn more about Mark Rothko and learn a little more about his life. Personally, I came home and did a google search immediately. Red is like a mini art history lesson, in a very creative way.
Red plays at Tennessee Repertory Theatre through March 1st. You can purchase tickets on their website or by calling the box office at 1-877-216-7540 .