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a Atlanta Premiere
by John Logan

COMPANY : Theatrical Outfit [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Balzer Theatre @ Herren's [WEBSITE]
ID# 4230

SHOWING : February 01, 2011 - March 11, 2012



Pontifical, obsessive, vain, arrogant and brilliant, modernist painter Mark Rothko turned the art world on its head with his revolutionary abstract expressionist studies in color, shape and texture. John Logan’s Red arrives in Atlanta to paint a raw and provocative portrait of an artist’s ambition and vulnerability in this electrifying play.

Starring Tom Key and Jimi Kocina

Rothko Tom Key
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What do You See?
by Dedalus
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
What do you see?

This is the primary question at the root of any discussion of Abstract Expressionism. Why is it that one person can look at a seemingly formless collection of color and shape and drizzle and drablessness and turn away with a so-what sigh, while another stands rooted for hours, profoundly moved to tears by the same image?

What do you see?

This is also a question that is it the heart of my own critical philosophy, the engine that drives my desire to see and write about theatre in all its diverse splendor. I was forcefully reminded of this several weeks ago, when I got into a spirited discussion with another frequent theatre-goer about the merits of a current production, one which I praised to the heavens one which he considered one of the “worst ten plays I’ve ever seen.” What did I see that he didn’t? What did I miss?

What do you see?

When I see John Logan’s “Red,” a compelling play about artist Mark Rothko being given an insanely intelligent and exciting production at Theatrical Outfit, I see a play about two men in a single room, a meditation on art and aesthetics, a glimpse into the process of a great artist (with whom I was not only unfamiliar, but totally ignorant), a dynamic two-year journey into a man and his employee that never develops into friendship, a non-teacher who can’t help but teach, a worker who can’t help but learn, a man fighting the demons of his own pretensions and depressions while remaining true to the convictions that gave them birth, a young man whose own convictions can’t help but be molded in the furnace of this intense period of creativity. In short, I see a perfect play being given a perfect production that appeals to head, heart, mind, and soul.

What do you see?

It is 1958 and Mark Rothko is at a crossroads. He has been given a prize commission, the creation of a mural to decorate the walls of the Four Seasons restaurant in the new Seagram’s Building on Manhattan’s Park Avenue. It is his chance to create a “space” in which his work can be experienced, contemplated, revered, It is an opportunity to create a thematically connected series that expresses basic human emotion writ large. It is also a temptation to sell out to the highest bidder.

He has hired a young man, Ken, fresh out of art school, to be his assistant, to “fetch food and cigarettes, to clean brushes, to lay down base coats, which is not really ‘painting’” (and indeed, we see Rothko and Ken transform a large blank canvas into a blood-red base for whatever will follow). He makes clear that he is not Ken’s teacher, but his employer. Throughout the next two years (90 minutes our time) the two work together, building a relationship through bickering, never really getting too close …until they have to.

These two are played by Tom Key (Rothko) and Jimi Kocina (Ken) in two of the most outstanding performances we are likely to see this year. Mr. Key is all Lion-in-Winter, quick to anger, arrogant in his victory over the schools of Cubism and Surrealism that preceded him, not prepared for the Pop Art era of Warhol and Johns that will follow. He wears plainly on his sleeve his devotion to his art and his craft, the meticulousness with which he approaches his work, his disdain for the less-than-satisfactory aesthetic training of his young assistant. His growing respect for Ken comes hard, not without too many moments of harsh cruelty.

Mr. Kocina starts out all eager puppy, willing to perform menial tasks just to pick up any drops of wisdom Rothko splatters around like so many droplets of red (crimson, scarlet, burgundy, wine-red, blood-red) drops of paint. As the months go by, he begins to see the man beneath the idol, the less-than pure motivations of the Four Seasons project, the arrogant peccadilloes of the cloistered creative genius. He sees the depressed man (who history tells us will eventually commit suicide in 1970), but, like Rothko, he is not immune to stooping to casual cruelty to make his points.

The final two scenes are riveting in their passion, in their laying bare the raw insecurities and passions that drive these two men, riveting in the clarity of the aesthetic divide that separates them, men of different countries, different generations, different expectations. It is very simply a perfect moment of theatre.

I could delve into the contributions of director David De Vries, or the wonderful set of Lee Maples that looks airy and spacious, but becomes almost prison-like by the end. I could praise the lights of Joseph Fultral, the sound design and music of Kendall Simpson, the props of MC Park (including several Rothko reproductions), and the costumes of Linda Patterson Indeed, all the technical aspects of the show are letter-perfect, and serve the story well.

But, when all is said and done, what I remember are the words of John Logan and the performances of Tom Key and Jimi Kocina.

Let me end with two quotes from Mr. Rothko (thank you Wikipedia for these):

“We favor the simple expression of the complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.”

“I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous. The reason I paint them, however . . . is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass. However you paint the larger picture, you are in it. It isn’t something you command!”

This production of “Red” is the diametric opposite of this thought – it is a large play devoting to nothing less than the nature of art and how it relates to being human. That it is writ on a small canvas, a 90-minute, two-character chamber play, and that it succeeds in all of its lofty ambitions (even to one like me who went with zero prior knowledge of Rothko or his work) is nothing short of miraculous.

That’s what I see when I watch this production of “Red.”

-- Brad Rudy (



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