Mark Rothko, referring to his own paintings, repeatedly asks his assistant, “How does it make you feel?” All great art, like Rothko’s paintings and college theatre, should make you feel something, anything.
“Red” leaves its audiences with feelings of sadness, hope and passion.
The five-scene play looks at Mark Rothko during the time that he was painting his famous collection, the Seagram Murals, for the Four Seasons restaurant. The story plays out over the course of two years through Rothko’s conversations with his assistant, Ken (Josh Cookingham). These conversations reveal Rothko’s theory of art.
“Red” is the opposite of heart-warming and fun, but it digs deep into looking at real life ideas like the human beings’ motivation and art’s passion.
The show, at first, is difficult to get into and understand, but once the exposition is given in the first scene, the beautiful script is captivating.
The two actors, Jay Duffer (Rothko) and Cookingham, spend 95 minutes on stage, usually together. They have an intriguing chemistry between them. Duffer, playing the mentor, seems to set the intensity on stage and Cookingham, the mentee, reacts by matching that intensity.
Both characters are engaging and interesting to watch, Duffer especially. Rothko, a strange and lonely man, spends a lot of time thinking and drinking. This lifestyle is evident in the way Duffer portrays the character. Duffer’s numerous swigs of alcohol, slumped shoulders and quick temper all make Rothko seem like a real man slouching in the chair at center stage.
If Duffer and Cookingham do a good job of portraying Rothko and Ken, then Jonathan Hicks and Kendra Kendall do a fantastic job of portraying Rothko’s studio. The only setting in the play, Rothko’s studio is exactly as expected to be – dim and full of red paint. Kendall, a university alumnus, recreated the Seagram paintings for the set.
The artists often reference the Seagram paintings, looking towards the audience when they do so. The paintings, however, are hanging on the back wall of the stage, so the audience can see them. It’s a brilliant way for the audience to connect the actors’ words with the paintings.
When I saw the play opening night, due to a malfunction, the lighting flickered throughout the entire show. Major light changes still took place though. The director and house manager offered free tickets for another night if any audience members were bothered by the glitch.
This play is not a light-hearted retreat from reality. In fact, it’s a tough picture of the turmoil in reality. “Red” will leave you pondering life, death and the color red, and it might even bring you to tears. Go see it anyway — it’s worth it.
Content is not suitable for children 12 and under due to language and mature subject material.
Jaime Hillegonds is a junior English writing major. This review reflects the view of the writer only.