The Canadian Stage Company's production of the much anticipated play, Red had its Canadian premier at the Bluma Appel Theatre on November 24. The acclaimed play by John Logan (of Gladiator and The Aviator fame) had already garnered wide success in London and New York City, winning an impressive six Tony awards.
Set in the late 1950s, Red tells the story of the famed abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko who was commissioned to paint a series of murals for The Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York City. Initially, Rothko, played by Jim Mezon describes his role to his fictional assistant, Ken, played by David Coomber, as his employer.
As time progresses, Ken is much more than an assistant who mixes paints and runs errands. The pair form a bond of mentor-student and Ken seems to be searching for a father figure in Rothko. The pair engage in a series of heated and thought provoking exchanges about art, artists and ideas. Rothko wanted to transform the Four Seasons Restaurant into a "temple" and fears that the commercialization of art would distort the authenticity of his work. He wanted his works to be something more meaningful than decorative art.
Mezon's honest portrayal of Rothko exudes pain, aggression and anguish. He is the venerable, yet tortured artist consumed and obsessed with wanting to create a masterpiece. Mezon bears an uncanny resemblance to Mark Rothko and the insurmountable and intense pressure that he puts upon himself in creating his work, elicits a visceral response from the audience. Ken has the audacity to challenge Rothko's ideologies about art. Coomber's quiet enthusiasm is a refreshing contrast to Mezon's boisterous and angst ridden portrayal of Rothko. The build up to the heated exchange of words was perfectly executed by Mezon's heightened passion and Coomber's emotional intensity, who as a young actor, upstaged Mezon in the final scene.
Kim Collier is the highly stylized director behind the show and was able to draw excellent and raw performances from her cast. What didn't seem to fit in this production were the multiple, disjointed lighting changes within single scenes from hues of red to yellow. Furthermore, Rothko's enormous studio space seemed to engulf the actors. The pop art images from Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol's oeuvre projected on multiple screens was unnecessary, as Rothko's contempt for those artists was understood and the bombardment of the images that are so popular only distracted from the seriousness of Rothko's trajectory. Ken notes that Rothko and his contemporaries surpassed the cubists, so why can't Rothko embrace pop art's evolution, unconventionality, nonconformity and creativity?
Red is sure to stir debates and invoke curiosity of Rothko's prolific works.
--- Alison Silveira
Written by John Logan
Directed by Kim Collier
Starring Jim Mezon and David Coomber
Red plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until December 17.
Photos by Bruce Zinger