A refresher for those of us without art history degrees, Mark Rothko was an early 20th century abstract expressionist painter, inspired deeply by Friedrich Nietzsche, Greek Mythology and the struggle for man to find spirituality in a meaningless world. A hard drinking, dedicated hater of pop art, Rothko and his jaded artistic rants are the subject of Red, the 2009 play written by John Logan.
The dialogue of Red is a conversation (one-sided ranting and name-slinging, to be more exact) between Rothko and his young, optimistic assistant, Ken. After the delusional introduction of what he calls his chapel—a dark, one-room studio with only artificial lighting, burned-out cigarettes and half-empty booze bottles—Rothko explains to Ken his newest project, painting murals for the Seagram Building on Park Avenue for the building's luxury restaurant, The Four Seasons.
Ken trying to talk to Rothko is like getting in a political argument with your drunk uncle. Needless to say, Ken gets cut off a lot and told he's fundamentally wrong about the world frequently. Rothko claims his newest masterpieces will "ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room..." an actual quote about the very real 1958 commission of Rothko's murals.
The cast couldn't be more apt. Nathan Woodworth plays a hopeful apprentice who takes Rothko's brutal verbal abuse with a youthful self-consciousness until his breaking point. Wayne Newcome's portrayal of Rothko and his jaded, sloppy, but pointed ramblings on art and innovation don't seem like a stretch.
"It hits home," said Newcome, who is the brain man behind "Brain Man No Die," an utterly freaky and twisted C-horror flick and the frontman for wrecked and twisted band Problem Stick; no stranger to abstract (to say the least) art. "It's not about what people like. It's not about what other people want. It's about what I want."
The point Rothko vehemently makes is that everything is not beautiful and everyone is not fine, all while trying to provoke more adjectives to describe the darkness of art, anything but soup cans and comic books. Newcome captures a hardened artist with staunch opinions without a stutter, while maintaining a hint of vulnerability.
Director Derek Sitter has flipped the focus of the play, facing the action and dialogue outward. Rather than looking at painted canvasses placed behind the actors, Sitter turns the audience's artistic imagination loose, making them into the canvas that Newcome and Woodworth philosophically admire.
The play is engaging and beyond quotable for anyone, if you've ever hated modern art or loved it. And especially if you ever drank scotch with your jaded, self-indulgent college philosophy professor.
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr.
$15. Available at bendticket.com, or at the door.