Red – theatre review

THEATRE_RedThe Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre opened John Logan’s “Red,” winner of six 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Play. It will be on stage through March 29, 2014 at 716 Ocean Boulevard in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Call (904) 249-7177 or visit for reservations. The play is about abstract impressionist painter Mark Rothko. Now, you may not be familiar with him or the play and may be wondering about the relevance of a drama about a man who died over forty years ago and whose work is not as widely known as, for example, that of Pablo Picasso. Well, let us pique your interest. In 2007 Rothko’s painting entitled “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” sold for 72.8 MILLION dollars. In 2012, his “Orange, Red, Yellow” went for a record-setting 86.9 MILLION dollars! The play takes place in his modest New York studio (designed by Director Dave Alan Thomas), during 1958 -1959. He is preparing several murals for the posh new Four Seasons restaurant located in the Seagram building in NYC. His $35,000 contract was considered lavish at that time Rothko hires a young assistant to prepare paint, prime canvases, run errands, and respond, as quickly as possible and without extraneous conversation, to any other requests by his demanding employer. Ken, who is an aspiring painter himself, is initially quite shy and in awe of Rothko, but as time goes on he becomes increasingly confident and assertive in expressing his beliefs. The two men engage in heated debates about wide-ranging topics that include the place of art in modern culture, artistic methods and styles, color interpretation theory, history and philosophy. They also discuss other painters and the merit of their works, including the Impressionists and increasingly popular modern artists like Warhol and Rauschenberg. Does Rothko think these men deserve the acclaim they have achieved? In one of the most dramatic scenes, Ken and Rothko paint a large scale canvas together. Drew L. Brown as Ken is impressive as the young artist seeking to learn and grow, who eventually is able to hold his own in discussions with Rothko, who is frequently arrogant and opinionated. Brown, who looks very much like the movie star Montgomery Clift early in his career, was last seen in The 5 & Dime‘s “Post to Post Links II error: No link found for term slug "Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens".” For a young actor with limited experience, his performance is remarkably insightful and polished. Mr. Brown is a welcome addition to the local theatre scene, and you will be seeing more of his work in the future. Bill Ratliff as Mark Rothko needs no introduction to local audiences as his list of award-winning roles goes back twenty years or more. In a tour de force performance, Ratliff captures Rothko’s volatility and intense passion for art and its meaning and future. The Dual Critics are in a quandary about Dave Alan Thomas. Would we prefer seeing him acting or directing? He does both incredibly well. As an actor he has excelled in coveted leading roles, including the Kings in “Pippin” and “Spamalot,” Willie Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” and Roger Debris in “The Producers,” to name a few. As a director he has staged such notable plays as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Merchant of Venice,” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Thomas is at the top of his game with “Red,” an inspired directorial masterpiece. Brian Grant was the Assistant Director for this show. While we are accustomed to seeing his name frequently mentioned on the local theatre scene for his set design and construction at various venues, he is also a painter and sculptor. He was thrilled to be so intensely involved in this play about art. Stage Manager Amy Tillotson and her backstage crew, Laura Young and Olivia Tillotson, handled the necessary set changes swiftly and efficiently during brief blackouts. Along with thought-provoking insights, this play contains moments of humor as well. We did not see the play on Broadway, but we have seen some clips of the performance and it is obvious that “Red” as presented by ABET is certainly Broadway quality. So take your own little trip to New York, it is only at few miles and minutes away in Atlantic Beach, Florida. And to enhance your enjoyment, check out images of Mark Rothko’s paintings with an internet search engine before you see the show, and read one of the biographies of his life, also on the web.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.