Columbus seems overtaken right now with Mark Rothko. Until May 26th, The Columbus Art Museum hosts Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950. Meanwhile, CATCO performs the play Red, a brief glimpse into the painter’s life. For those that know little about the man (or abstract expressionism in general), a trip, preferably before the museum for context purposes, to CATCO seems in order.
Written by John Logan, the pen behind the film The Last Samurai and a contributor to many blockbuster action movies like Skyfall, Red takes a turn from what most of the world attributes to Logan. The play analyzes two years in Mark Rothko’s life where he worked on a series of paintings for a commission at the new Seagram Building at Park Avenue and its fine dining restaurant, The Four Seasons. In Red, Rothko hires an assistant, the fictional Ken, who works with him the duration of the process, mixing paint, constructing and priming canvasses, and hearing everything Rothko says.
Kevin McClatchy (Rothko) and Tim Simeone (Ken) possess phenomenal chemistry together. McClatchy balances Rothko’s Dionysian outbursts and vices with his Apollonian consciousness, and regimens. He finds the core of the character and pulses in that zone, leaving the audience unsure when he may next explode. Simeone’s nuanced performance as the young, student-artist, skeptic evolves throughout the play, as it should, and conjures up memories of youth and the excitement and frustration inherent in that time of one’s life.
Jimmy Bohr directs an exquisite production. A four to five minute process of priming a canvass transforms into a dance that juxtaposes Rothko’s in-the-moment Dionysius with Ken’s inner Apollo. Paint drops fly and nothing else matters in that moment, especially for such a routine task. It is an inspiring sight to see. Bohr’s calculated forward momentum and pacing of a superb script create a show that feels absolutely right; even the transitions provide a moment of solace before the lights rise again.
Technical elements work to create a cohesive bursts of color that, like a Rothko painting, add life and passion to the play. Michael S. Brewer’s encompassing set offers many subtleties that constantly surprise, with much help from Jim LeVally’s perfect and comprehensive props and Edith Dinger Wadkins’ unassuming yet detailed painting and set decoration. The sheer scope of the set almost makes the characters miniscule at times, but it usually works with Jarod Wilson’s more honed lighting. His focus on the dim lighting Rothko preferred creates this small, shadowy feel that serves well for artistic discourse.
Of course, Red offers no shortage of artistic discourse. Leaving the theater, one hears pairs and groups of people discussing the show, Rothko’s words, and Ken’s thoughts. They compare to what they know of him, what they know of themselves, and what they know of life. What kept circling through my mind reoccured throughout the play—the artist’s belief, even in 1958, that there no longer existed real human beings to look at pictures. Often, Rothko argues, people want to appear cultured or intelligent in an attempt to keep up with the neighbors or because society dictates that certain social classes of people just “like” something, theater for instance. As I left CATCO, listening to the people around me, I hope in the deepest, reddest part of my heart that the discussions after Red really do branch beyond a basic level of conversation and acknowledgement of a “fine” play to transcend into educational enlightenment that Rothko and most artists so crave for the world.
Red plays through March 3 at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 2 pm; Wed at 11 am. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat.
More information can be found online at www.catco.org.