BWW Review: Theatre Artists Studio Presents RED ~ Illuminating And Riveting!

BWW Review: Theatre Artists Studio Presents RED ~ Illuminating And Riveting!

There are three very good reasons to see RED, Theatre Artists Studio's production of John Logan's Tony award-winning drama:

The acting. The acting. The acting!

Indeed, there's a fourth very good reason and that is the astute and impeccable direction of Carol MacLeod.

Veteran thespian Michael Fleck delivers a roaring and riveting performance as Mark Rothko, one of the Goliaths of the New York School of artists ~ the cohort of abstract expressionists that challenged the conventions of the art world in the 1950's and '60's and included Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Motherwell.

Rothko's pioneering work in color field painting (layering variously sized and colored rectangles onto fields of color) had distinguished him from the rest of the pack and won him a commission from the Bronfman family, owners of Seagram's, to develop a series of panels to be placed in the Four Seasons Restaurant at their new corporate headquarters in New York.

The play opens as Rothko is reflecting on his work-in-progress panels ~ or, as the panels are reflecting on him. Because, the two are in dialogue in the way that a Hasid communes with God.

A young man in a suit enters the studio and is exhorted to study the panels and tell what he sees. He does not yet see well enough to satisfy the Goliath's standards. For Rothko, seeing requires far more than looking; it requires empathy, discernment, and determination of a work's worth. It is a demand which will define his relationship with his student. Thus begins the apprenticeship of Ken (Quinn Johnson), the David in what becomes an epic duel of intellects and artistic visions.

Fleck is awesome as he captures the passion and inner turmoil of the artist who bellows at the commercialization of the new popularized genres, who fears that the up-and-coming generation of artists (Stella, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, and Warhol) are out to "murder" him, and who, ironically, has yet to confront the apparent contradiction in his acceptance of the Seagram commission. He is an ideologue when it comes to his own work and the ideal process of creation, which, to his mind requires grounding in all the humanities. ("You cannot be an artist until you are civilized. You cannot be civilized until you learn. To be civilized is to know where you belong in the continuum of your art and your world. To surmount the past, you must know the past.")

Newcomer Quinn Johnson is captivating as he evolves his character over the course of the five scenes that cover Ken's three years under the tutelage of the grand master. It's a powerful, sophisticated, and nuanced performance. At first, he stands seemingly intimidated by Rothko's overpowering persona and unrelenting demands and reprimands. It's all Rothko in the first two scenes until Ken flowers into his own man and begins to voice his opinions. At that point, Johnson's Ken emerges as a force to be reckoned with, challenging Rothko's vision and decision to accept the Seagram's commission and ultimately declaring his own imminent arrival as an artist.

The chemistry between Fleck/Rothko and Johnson/Ken is palpable and dynamic. They play off each other to the tune of Logan's wordcraft with a precision and cadence that is majestic. As much as they are opposites, they are essential to each other. Witness a dramatic dance-like moment of creation through collaboration as they wield house painting brushes and buckets like instruments of war and furiously lather a blank canvas with a reddish glaze. It is synchronized artistry, and it is action that bespeaks a critical passage in their relationship.

The question becomes how long can the connection last until the teacher lets go of the student, the father lets go of the son. What is it, after their course is complete, that they actually see in the field of color on the canvas before them? What is the color of Rothko's artistic integrity? What is red?

RED is a play, in itself, of multiple layers. Director Carol MacLeod, Michael Fleck, and Quinn Johnson have left an indelible mark of excellence on its canvas.

RED, unequivocally classifiable as a must-see production, runs through March 25th at The Studio, 12406 N. Paradise Village Parkway East, Scottsdale.

Poster credit to Theatre Artists Studio

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From This Author Herbert Paine

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