Theatre review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray
Gail M. Burns: As the lights come up on “Red” at the Dorset Theatre Festival, Mark Rothko (Tim Daly) is staring intently through the fourth wall looking, not at the audience, but rather at some imaginary painting he has just finished, and asks: “What do you see?”
Larry Murray: For me, those words signify the beginning of a wonderful excursion into the mind of the artist, as imagined by playwright John Logan. As we took our seats, that incredibly detailed set by John McDermott and the classical music playing in the background told me a lot about Rothko and his life as an artist.
Gail: It is a marvelous set, very realistic. I love creative spaces, they tell a lot about the artist, which is exactly what McDermott and director Adrienne Campbell-Holt intend. There are existing photos of Rothko in his studio at about this time – the play is set in 1958-1959 when Rothko was at the verge of waning as an artist – which show a less cluttered space with more natural light than either this set or Logan’s script describe, but they also show how enormous Rothko’s canvases are. Everything had to be scaled down to fit on the Dorset stage.
Larry: In many ways this was an expedition into the mind of an artist, a trip stimulated by Logan’s visit to the Tate in London during a film shoot where the Rothko Seagram paintings were. Created for the Four Seasons Restaurant, the writer was smitten by them and they in turn prompted him to write the play. “I thought about the way the colors in the paintings vibrate back and forth,” he said, deciding “it would be a great two-hander because it sorta represents and mirrors his work. Once I came up with the idea of Rothko and his assistant, everything fell in place.” And, as theatre, it works as the device to get us to learn about his art. Tim Daly as Rothko and Charles Socarides as Ken are able to answer that question, not once, but again and again.