“Red” – Arizona Theatre Company

This review aired on KBAQ May 7, 2012


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

“Red,” Arizona Theatre Company’s superb season ending production, is a fascinating look at art’s creation, a process playwright John Logan brilliantly compares to the multifaceted routines of life.  “Red” won last year’s Tony Award as the Best Broadway Play.  It follows artist Mark Rothko’s creative process in 1958 as he crafted thirty canvases for the Four Seasons Manhattan restaurant.  As Rothko creates the canvases, with help from his assistant Ken, the artist teaches that in order to fully understand any artist’s creation, you must comprehend life’s complexities and recognize life’s parallels to art.

The beautifully written play intellectualizes the creative process in a variety of thoughtful ways as Rothko puts his initially fawning assistant through torturous discoveries that challenge his every idea and belief.  You can’t have valid understandings of anything without being able to dissect and interpret every nuance of any idea.  Staged in Rothko’s New York City studio, the artist is respected with a following.  He’s developed a deep understanding of the human condition that he translates into his art.  Young Ken is initially challenged by Rothko’s maturity and his carefully developed ideas.  Rothko makes Ken think about life and why he believes what he understands.  Ken grows over the year the play represents so, by the end, Ken strikes back at Rothko in a long monologue that leaves the artist in awe-struck silence as Ken reveals the depth of his understanding and how he’s used what Rothko has taught him.

Director Richard E. T. White lets his two marvelous actors deliver the dissertation with straight-forward directness as the two have insightful chats as Ken prepares canvases for Rothko.  Creating a canvas allows the men to explore life’s complexities and challenges.

Denis Arndt gives a dynamic interpretation of the opinionated Rothko as he delivers the artist’s ideas and knowledge with forceful confidence to Ken.  Connor Toms’ Ken evolves from a meek assistant into a thinking and knowledgeable artist himself who leaves Rothko mesmerized at the play’s end by his growth, development, and the complexities of his ideas.  The two play off each other luminously.

Kent Dorsey’s set looks like a typical artist’s enclave – messy but with a reason Rothko understands and thrives upon.  The two actors have been meticulously schooled in the routines of artists and they navigate the studio and work with the many artist supplies realistically.

“Red” provides a fascinating glimpse into an artist’s creative process and brilliantly parlays that process into an understanding of life and living.  ATC’s “Red” continues to May 20.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: A