Sunday, September 22, 2013

Red by John Logan, Penfold Theatre at Trinity Street, September 12 - 29, 2013

ALT review
Red by John Logan Penfold Theatre Austin TX

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

Red is a tragedy, make no mistake, but it is one in love with life, and most especially with the color red. As with the very best plays, Red tells everything plainly to the audience. The promotional material for the play is full of piquant quotations from the script, by way of Mark Rothko, the central character. My favorite, not in any of the cut-lines is: “There is tragedy in every brushstroke.”

Red John Logan Penfold Theatre Austin TX
Ryan Crowder, Steven Pounder (photo: Kimberley Mead)
And so the tragedy played itself out, revolving around the modernist abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko and set in his warehouse-y lower Manhattan studio. The time of the play was the peak of Rothko’s career, when he was painting his commission for murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram building in Manhattan. 

 At the time, it was the most valuable art commission ever, paying $35,000. The commissioner was the architect Philip Johnson through his patron, international modernist architect Mies van der Rohe, perhaps the reigning art god of the twentieth century, who changed history more profoundly even than Picasso. 

 These were heady times, indeed, a few years past Jackson Pollock’s death (which Rothko insisted was suicide) at a point at which a few thinkers like Rothko saw Pop Art coming to replace all the abstract expressionists and knew it would be a painful death.

Penfold Theatre’s production of Red is a major score; they have captured the Austin premiere of this John Logan play, a Tony award winner, first staged in London in 2009. Penfold treats the play very well, staging it on the thrust stage of the Trinity Street Theatre, on the fourth floor of the First Baptist Church, 901 Trinity St., downtown. Steven Pounders plays Rothko, and Ryan Crowder, producing artistic director of Penfold, plays Ken, Rothko’s newly hired studio assistant. Rothko was known for his acerbic statements about the art world, and many of those comments have found their way into Logan’s script. Rothko was no Oscar Wilde for biting irony and sarcasm, but in his rage he came close.

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