Red, along with yellow and blue, are considered primary colors, with red almost leaping off the artist’s palette. Theatrically speaking, Red is a play about the nature of creative genius and the workings of a great mind. Playwright John Logan wrote the play, which won six 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Play.
Red is a two-man drama featuring Rep favorite Joseph Graves as Mark Rothko and newcomer Chris Wendelken as Ken. Red is set in Rothko’s studio in the late 1950s as the artist works on a commission to create a series of murals for the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan.
Rothko’s mid-20th-century art, considered abstract, combined bold colors and geometric shapes. Robert Hupp, the Rep’s producing artistic director, became intrigued with Rothko while a drama school student in New York - even buying a copy of a Rothko painting.
“He’s an artist I’ve always admired,” Hupp says. “He changed the definition of American art in the 1950s, and when I saw this play, I fell in love with it. You don’t really need to know who Mark Rothko was to appreciate the play. It is a riveting roller coaster ride that takes you on this journey with a master artist and his apprentice.
“That relationship of what is the nature of art, what is the responsibility of the artist to his work - those are questions we don’t get to wrestle with too often, and wrestle with in such an engaging, dramatic way. That’s why I fell in love with the play.”
Hupp learned about a year ago that the Arkansas Arts Center was doing a Rothko exhibit this fall, and decided that he and Todd Herman, executive director of the Arts Center, could create a partnership for the first time.
Recent popular TV series such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and House of Cards feature the sort of “anti-hero” that Rothko became in his career, Hupp explains.
“We are compelled to admire these characters that might be considered somewhat unsavory,” he says. “It’s because of the force of their will and their genius, and that’s what makes the Rothko character in the play so captivating.”
Graves observes that Rothko was being paid $35,000, which at the time was a very lucrative sum, for the art he was creating, and the play concerns the relationship between him and the character of Ken, who is a composite of several of Rothko’s associates.
“The play is based on fact and it was set at a time, 1958-59, when he was at the height of his fame,” Graves says. “He wanted to create a sort of ‘temple’ in the setting of this high end restaurant, and the debate revolves around that. How do you take a place that is all about public consumption and make it a temple?
“The paintings are huge, 15feet high, and Rothko needs help moving them around, so he hires an assistant, Ken, but what he doesn’t need is help with the actual painting or any suggestion about what he should do.”
Graves’ past roles at the Rep were playing Willie Stark in All the King’s Men, Joe Keller in All My Sons, Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock’s Final Adventure, Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, Lenny in Of Mice and Men, Prospero in The Tempest and Iago in Othello. He is the artistic director of Peking University’s Institute of World Theatre and Film in Beijing and has directed and/or produced more than 80 plays in his 12 years at the institute.
Graves also writes for stage and film. His latest screenplay, Outrage, starring Nicolas Cage, is filming in China.
Wendelken, whose most recent theatrical work was in Brilliant Traces in Sun Valley,Idaho, has also had roles on TV series Law & Order: SVU and The Practice.
“Rothko was a fiercely private man was something I’ve learned,” Wendelken says. “He didn’t put himself out there, the way Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack did, and wasn’t remotely interested in anyone else’s opinion.”
Hupp will host a panel discussion with the cast at noon Friday in Sturgis Hall at the Clinton School of Public Service. To reserve seats, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (501) 683-5239.
Other related events are:
“Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade” on display at the Arkansas Arts Center from Friday through Feb. 9 - Rep patrons receive$5 tickets to the art exhibit with a ticket stub from Red, while Arts Center patrons will receive $5 off a ticket to see Red with a ticket stub from the exhibit.
Tuesday: Arkansas Arts Center Night at 7 p.m. Patrons can use the online code “ART” for half-price tickets to Red.
Wednesday, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2: Post-show salons in Foster’s, with a discussion about Rothko and his legacy between Hupp and Arkansas Arts Center Executive Director Todd Herman.
Oct. 31: Craft Beer Night at The Rep. Before the performance, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, New Belgium’s Fat Tire and Blue Moon’s Belgian White Ale will be served. (Wear red to receive a special treat.)
7 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 10, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock (Preview performance at 7 p.m. today with pre-show director’s talk from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.) Tickets: $25-$40; ($5 off advance purchases through today) Sign-interpreted performance for the hearing impaired on Oct. 30 (501) 378-0405 therep.org/attend
Weekend, Pages 37 on 10/24/2013
Print Headline: Play about artist Rothko as colorful as his works