RED (San Diego REP)

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Creating art is a unique process for each individual artist. The final masterpiece can be a migration of inspiration, reflection and temperament. RED takes the audience through the journey of Mark Rothko’s “Seagram Murals”, a series of paintings, commissioned by the beverage company, Seagram, which were to be displayed in The Four Seasons, an upscale New York restaurant.

The American abstract expressionist constantly asks, “What do you see?”  The real question should be “What to you feel?”  After all, Rothko wants the viewer to have an emotional connection to his art. To think that RED implies the color would be to make the same mistake Rothko (John Vickery) makes when his assistant, Ken (Jason Maddy), recommends red in one of the paintings. Ken frustratingly states, “I didn’t mean red paint only. I meant the emotion of red at sunrise.” As Rothko argues, “sunrise isn’t red.” The two get into a vocal spar and list red objects that evoke certain feelings: passion, atrial blood, apples, the sun in Rousseau, the albino’s eyes, nick yourself shaving, the Ruby Slippers, the Russian flag, sport cars­—the list goes on. Playwright John Logan’s creative approach of having the two actors actually paint a large canvas red on stage draws the audience in for their own art experience, giving us the opportunity to contemplate our own feelings of red.

John Vickery as Rothko in RED.

John Vickery as Rothko in RED.
(Photo by Daren Scott)

As we observe Rothko’s creative process and arrogant personality, we also witness his vulnerability when Ken explodes and berates Rothko for his attitude toward the art world. The outburst leads to a pivotal moment for Rothko and the commissioning of his murals.

This 2010 Tony award-winning play runs until April 27 at San Diego REP. It’s a fantastic play that sparks an interest in Rothko’s art and allows the audience to share in the emotional process of creating it.