Red" may be all talk and no action -- but what talk! Scribe John Logan sends American abstract impressionist painter Mark Rothko into battle with his demons in this electrifying play of ideas, and the artist's howls are pure music. Alfred Molina is majestic as Rothko, defying the future he reads in the face of Eddie Redmayne, who holds his own as Rothko's young assistant. Although Michael Grandage's muscular production was trucked in from the Donmar Warehouse, where it preemed last year and was nommed for three Olivier Awards, the show feels as if it's come home to Broadway.
RED Broadway Reviews
Reviews of Red on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Red including the New York Times and More...
“Red” is a compelling example of how a thinking theater can simultaneously entertain and educate. And to think that such a fine play should have been elicited by such an overrated painter.
The production, under the immaculate, tightly focused direction of Michael Grandage, comes from London's Donmar Warehouse, where Grandage is artistic director. Grandage allows Rothko's barbed, brutish yet often insightful comments on art to unfold with a theatrical flair that educates as well as entertains. After experiencing "Red," "What do you see?" is a question audiences will be able to answer with enormous satisfaction.
Adopting an impeccable American accent, Molina is absolutely superb as the Russia-born Rothko, anchoring the proceedings with a ferocious intensity that never wavers. In a role that at first seems underwritten, Redmayne shines as well, especially late in the play, when his character dares to confront his employer about the hypocrisy of creating his works for an environment in which people will barely even bother to look at them.
Red, the new play by John Logan at Broadway's John Golden Theatre, is a stimulating, thought-provoking exploration of art. It asks what art is for, and it plumbs deeply into the process of its creation: a director friend of mine remarked that she felt Red looked more nakedly and truthfully at the pain that goes into the making of art than anything she'd ever seen. I think that people who care about art, in any manifestation, and certainly people who make it, will find much resonance in this fine drama.
"Red" is an extremely intelligent play of ideas, dealing with such lofty concepts as the purpose of art, cultural trendiness, commerce versus aesthetics and much more. The shifting dynamics in this brutally honest portrait of the artist make for the most intellectually stimulating 90 minutes Broadway has seen in years.
“Red,” which arrives as fresh, yes, as paint from its recent premiere at the Donmar Warehouse in London, initially registers as a visceral exercise in art appreciation. Fortunately though, it turns out to be more a study in artist appreciation, a portrait of an angry and brilliant mind that asks you to feel the shape and texture of thoughts.
Call it a portrait of the artist as a middle-aged egomaniac, bully, depressive and hypocrite, one who brags about killing Cubism but frets Pop Art technicians will undo him... The conversation sometimes tilts so close to lecture that you silently wonder, "Is there a docent in the house?" But Rothko was an artist of ideas - and his thoughts, along with his neuroses, blood and sweat, were integral to his artistic process.
There's a little too much talk of how paintings 'pulse' and a few of the assistant's background details seem unnecessarily maudlin. No doubt these were inserted to give his character depth, so he'd be more than just Rothko's sounding board. While the role may not be as well-drawn as Rothko's, Redmayne certainly knows what to do with it. But what would any work about a tortured artist be without a few rough patches? Art, as Steven Sondheim wrote in Sunday in the Park With George, isn't easy.
For a while into Red, the 90-minute London import about Mark Rothko (the marvelous Alfred Molina) and a young apprentice (Eddie Redmayne), it seems playwright John Logan is careening into the gossip-and-grandiosity rut of art-bio presumption. But suddenly, as the men prime an enormous canvas and themselves in a frenzied bacchanalia of red paint, the grips of Rothko's art and Michael Grandage's visceral production close in and refuse to let go. By the time Rothko, the brainy and difficult American abstract expressionist, declares his massive "pulsing" color-field work is "here to stop your heart," the paintings throb at us as if they actually might.
As Rothko, the strapping Molina burns up the stage. Head shaved, striding across the studio with his barrel chest thrust forward, he is all feistiness and creative ferocity. Even in silence, he exudes a remarkable gravity. He also makes a gorgeous fuss. “I am here to stop your heart, you understand that?” he bellows at Ken, in one of their arguments about painting. “I am here to make you think. . . . I am not here to make pretty pictures!”
"Red" could have easily turned into another lame and forgettable biodrama. But in the capable hands of playwright John Logan, director Michael Grandage and actor Alfred Molina, it turns out to be an engrossing look at Abstract Expressionist painter Mark Rothko and a spirited debate on the purpose and power of contemporary art.
There's talk of Nietzsche and Aeschylus, and debate over the merits of Rothko's various peers and potential new rivals. (Jackson Pollock, that other self-destructive maverick, gets a lot of attention.) As the play unfolds, Rothko is working on the murals he intended for, but ultimately withheld from, Manhattan's swank Four Seasons restaurant. This leads to much hand-wringing about the tension between commerce and art. But the most illuminating and affecting aspect of this production, imported from London's Donmar Warehouse, is Alfred Molina's performance as Rothko. Under Michael Grandage's typically crisp, smart direction, Molina brings a wry humanity to the part that transcends tortured-artist clichés.
The play is didactic, but, then, Rothko was a didact, which makes him an ideal conduit for Mr. Logan’s arguments. “I am not your rabbi, I am not your father, I am not your shrink, I am not your friend, I am not your teacher—I am your employer,” Rothko tells Ken upon hiring him. But he can’t help himself: He discourses on philosophy, on literature, on painting. “Most of painting is thinking,” he says. Rothko prides himself and his generation on having vanquished the Cubists, but he rails against the rising Pop artists, against change.
The show, directed by Michael Grandage (who staged the Jude Law "Hamlet" on Broadway), is at its most engaging when this physicality takes over and the two men throw themselves into their work. It climaxes in a scene in which they slather maroon primer on a canvas in a competitive, quasi-sexual frenzy -- Rothko even lights up a cigarette afterward... But oh, the empty verbiage, the showoff name-dropping we have to wade through.
A new bio drama regarding modern art master Mark Rothko, "Red" is smartly crafted, strikingly staged and beautifully designed. Yet for all of its excellence, the Donmar Warehouse import from London which opened Thursday at the Golden Theatre lacks the sizzle one usually expects to enjoy in a hot Broadway drama. Alfred Molina portrays Rothko with brooding urgency but never rages quite as mightily as might be hoped.
I suppose if you've never seen a play or film about a bullying self-important artist who finds him or herself growing out of style and now must reluctantly pass the torch to the younger generation's new voice, then John Logan's Red is as good an introduction to the genre as any. It's a perfectly competent play receiving a perfectly competent production that never bores and even provides some interesting moments in its ninety minute life. But for a subject so involved and characters so passionate, Red doesn't excite.
Alfred Molina, under normal circumstances a consummately fine actor, is here inexplicably reminiscent of Sgt. Bilko, while Eddie Redmayne plays his earnest young assistant with a dude-that's-soooo-cool slacker accent, a puzzling choice for a play set in the late '50s. As for the script, it consists of one high-art platitude after another ("To surmount the past, you must know the past"), most of them shouted by Mr. Molina. Even if the real-life Rothko talked this way, it doesn't make for good theater, nor does it tell you much of anything about the greatness of his paintings.
Let’s be cynical for a moment and speculate as to why Red was such a hit in London, generating sufficient hype to catapult it over the pond. It wasn’t the subject, AbEx icon Mark Rothko, even though he’s bigger in London than here. It wasn’t the star, Alfred Molina, wonderful though he is. It wasn’t even the Hollywood pedigree of author John Logan, who scripted Gladiator and Sweeney Todd. The answer, I think, is simple: Red offered English audiences the spectacle of a great artist rejecting American mammon: Rothko returning his $35,000 commission for the Seagram Murals in 1959. Those ominous, throbbing, blood-colored ciphers may puzzle us, but one lesson is clear: Never underestimate the British public’s appetite for transatlantic schadenfreude.
John Logan's Red (Golden Theatre) is, simultaneously, as wonderfully astute and as dishearteningly naïve a piece of playwriting as I can recall. Much that's meaningful gets said, during this 95-minute study of the interactions between the painter Mark Rothko (Alfred Molina) and his new assistant (Eddie Redmayne), but meaning isn't drama, and the bulk of Red's dramatic substance is conveyed by Christopher Oram's sets and Neil Austin's lighting, which focus on several simulated Rothko canvases. They highlight the tense, tormented undercurrents of battle that churn through Rothko's late works; relatively little in the spoken text does so, despite the combative energy of Molina's performance.
There's barely a cliché left unturned in John Logan's "Red," a two-hander about the late-in-life creative struggles of artist Mark Rothko, arriving direct from London's Donmar Warehouse. Though it's served to a hi-fi fare-thee-well by director Michael Grandage and actors Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne (who won an Olivier Award for his supporting performance), all their efforts can't disguise the fact that this is a prime example of theater of the exclamation point.