To what extent is great art about expression? About ego? About an artist finding his place in time, or finding an appreciative audience for his art? RED is an exploration of the personality of an artist – not any artist, but abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Through his interactions with his young assistant, RED reveals Rothko’s character, his views on art (and philosophy), and depicts a turn and a half of the cycle wherein a new generation of artists usurps and replaces the old one.
RED Examines Art from the Heart and the Head
HE SAID: As much as this is a piece of art, it is a test. Like Rothko challenges his new apprentice to think about the paintings and the meaning and affect of art, so, too, are we as an audience being directly challenged. The first line of the play, “What do you see?”, resonates throughout the rest of the piece, calling the audience to process their earnest feelings into something more than the superficial experience and dig deep into their broader implications. This play took effort for me as an audience member, but effort well worth it because I left with my heart and mind provoked and churning for answers to the questions.
SHE SAID: It’s definitely is a challenging piece – in all of the good meanings of the word – just as you would expect, if I told you that it’s a play about the meaning of art. But it’s written well enough that it’s also clear why this is a play, and not an editorial or an academic article. The multi-faceted relationship between the characters — mentor and apprentice, father and son, boss and employee, teacher and student, is really the heart of the play, and it’s fascinating to see what the actual relationship is (compared with what either of the characters proclaim it to be) at multiple points in time. The other unique part of the play is that it’s about two people working together to DO things — a good portion (though not too much) of the play is spent with the characters in silence, mixing paint, stretching canvas, packing or unpacking food, and even painting together. Like any moments of honest, motivated action onstage, these are fascinating to watch, and the actors should be commended for making them just as compelling as the well-crafted dialogue.
Hecht and Bonenfant Shine, Even in Silence
HE SAID: I thought it was interesting that the only applause during the show was right after the two had a moment of painting a canvas in tandem. For some reason, it was compelling. But the crux of this show lies in the dialogue – an almost Socratic exchange. The show examines the relationship between artist/creation, art/audience. But, as you say, what allows or requires this to be a play is the relationship between Rothko and his new protege, masterfully played by Lawrence Hecht and Benjamin Bonenfant respectfully. The Tet-a-tet is a roller coaster for both men. As the show progresses, the protege develops a backbone and becomes a voice of the avant-guarde challenging the conceptions of their “Fathers” and Rothko’s seriousness is challenged culminating in the beautiful final scene where it comes out just how deeply each man has affected the other.
SHE SAID : The two men were both wonderful. Appropriately, Hecht commanded the audience’s attention from the very beginning, while, for me personally, Bonenfant took a little while to warm up. It was obvious from the start that it was Hecht’s space to occupy. Hecht also dealt with the language masterfully — each line was a mouthful, but each one came out effortlessly articulated underneath a perfectly gruff dialect. As Bonenfant’s character found his voice, he got his chance as well — but his contribution was far more emotional. His emotional range was especially well showcased as anger and defiance toward the end of the show.
Design Nails the Feeling of a Work in Artful Progress
HE SAID: Obviously, in a two person play both actors need to be top notch, and Curious delivers with their casting of Hecht and Bonenfant. As I was alluding to before, the transformations these two portrayed were marvelous. Simply brilliant. What I also found brilliant was the sound design by Will Burns. The set, designed by Susan Crabtree, was incredibly detailed and the lighting design by Shannon McKinney did wonders to draw out the “red”, but the sound design was entrancing.
SHE SAID: I was impressed with the set when I first walked in, as I usually am at Curious. It was an open but dark space that really reinforced the fact that real people got real work done here. I loved all of the tall canvases stacked and hanging all over the space. Because the actors also manipulated the set so much, I was also really pleased with how easy it was for them to work with. Everything that was on wheels rolled easily, everything that flipped over did so without me worrying about it. It was really a pleasure to not only see the set but to watch the actors interact with it.
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Expect to Introspect at RED
THEY SAID: Curious Theatre knows how to deliver drama. Last year’s Homebody/Kabul was a successful for a reason. But RED challenges its audience in a unique, unrelenting kind of a way. Your thoughts and feelings are poked and tested by the rivaling men on stage. But if you accept the test and answer the questions, you’ll come out on the other side perhaps knowing something a bit more honest regarding your feelings for art – an experience uncommon in theatre.
For more information on RED, see the wikipedia page. RED plays through June 16th at Curious Theatre Company. Click the banner for tickets and more information.