Theatrically the questions of "What is art?" and "Can art be commercialized" are not new ones. But that is precisely what John Logan's Tony Award winning play "Red", currently playing at the Seattle Rep, is putting out there. And while not a new issue, the play still results in an interesting look into the mind of two artists, one established and one fledgling, and above all turns in some stellar performances from the actors involved.
The play centers on Mark Rothko (Denis Arndt), celebrated abstract painter who in 1958 took a commission to paint a series of murals for the new Seagram building and it's restaurant, The Four Seasons. And it's during this time that we get a bit of insight into the man, along with his fictional assistant Ken (Connor Toms) as to how he feels about this commission, how he sees the world and of course his definitions of art. Like I said, not a new topic but what Logan has done here is wrapped these discussions in two fascinating characters and some incredibly witty and at times poignant dialogue.
Toms is wonderful as Ken, Rothko's put upon assistant and perennial whipping boy. He manages a sweetness and naiveté coupled with a determination to be his own artist that completely sells the character. And the always-amazing Arndt (alliteration unintended but deserved) takes Rothko from curmudgeonly bully to introspective genius with ease. And that's why I love watching Arndt, he always makes everything he does look like he's not even trying but still manages outstanding performances. And director Richard E.T. White keeps the two in a kind of sublime sync with each other and with the play.
And I, of course, have to mention the incredible set from Kent Dorsey. Yes, it's Rothko's studio and his paintings but he has done it in such a practical yet aesthetic way as to make even scene changes entertaining. And the gorgeous lighting and sound designs from Robert Peterson and Brendan Patrick Hogan only serve to accentuate (but never overpower) the beauty of the set, the play and the performances.
So while not the most groundbreaking work I've seen, still a fun and interesting evening filled with great performances. Just plain good theater. I just don't see the fuss over the play itself especially it's Tony Award considering the other plays from that season. But that's just me and as "Red" itself puts forth, art is subjective. It all boils down to the individual and what they see. What will you see?
"Red" plays at the Seattle Repertory Theatre through March 24th. For tickets or information contact the Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion