“RED” by John Logan, directed by Keven Myhre, Salt Lake Acting Company, through March 4, 801-363-7522 or www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/
At the Salt Lake Acting Company, “Red” is just as vivid, dramatic and powerful as the color red itself.
The 2010 Tony Award winner for best play, “Red” is an intriguing mediation on a personal discovery of truth that was written by the playwright-screenwriter John Logan, who most recently wrote “Hugo” for Martin Scorsese. While the play is ostensibly about the abstract impressionist artist Mark Rothko creating a series of murals commissioned by the not-yet-completed Four Seasons Restaurant on New York City’s Park Avenue, the brash Rothko tutors his fictional young assistant on the importance of fully embracing life and not relying on how others may define reality for him.
While frames are pounded together, canvases are primed, and pigments are mixed and measured in Rothko’s 1958 paint-splattered studio, the two men, the play’s only characters, develop a splintered relationship. Creating his artworks, Rothko explains, is only 10 percent applying paint to canvas. Everything else is preparing, studying and critiquing.
Rothko is adamant that his apprentice not just see red and every other color but wants him to be uniquely affected by the spectrum — how he personally “feels” toward colors. And in these swatches of color, we see life itself.
“Red” is one of those wonderful plays that requires audiences to bring their own contributions to the performance, and enjoying the production is about individual personal involvements with the concepts the play spills out.
Under illuminating direction by one of SLAC’s executive producers, Keven Myhre, Morgan Lund presents a vibrant portrait of Rothko as the brooding, exploring and domineering artist that he was. Lund plays Rothko with remarkable commitment.
As the apprentice whose admiration for the rising Pop art movement threatens the man who employs him, Ted Powell plays Ken with a strength that evolves throughout the evening. While both characters are stretched in their own ways, Ken’s hero worship wears off over the five days presented during the two-year span of the play. The struggling painter confronts the established artist with a passion that now matches his mentor’s.
Each actor embraces the rhythmic flow of the smartly crafted dialog. There’s much talk-talk-talk in “Red” without any of the massive action exploding in the country’s megaplexes, but through Lund and Powell, Rothko’s and Ken’s discussions tantalize and reveal.
It is not essential to know Rothko’s art or modern art at all to appreciate “Red.” Like other powerful pieces of art, “Red” leaves images in your memory that keep reappearing and you realize that the experience has left a searing impression on you.
Content advisories: Some profane language, brief smoking and drinking.