In Jeff Still's hands, Mark Rothko is high volume, with a focused energy that can be felt in the air. He carries the role, nearly the play, with a sure hand, and it is easy to get caught up in all his talk, feeling on edge as if we might be the next to be ordered to mix pigments for the a painting. As Ken, Jack Cutmore-Scott has the more difficult task of expressing while reacting; the young art student has far less to say, as he goes about the tasks of preparing materials for Rothko's work, cleaning up, picking up lunch, etc. By play's end, Cutmore-Scott shows a change in the character, a subtle maturing as he has absorbed all he can from Rothko's rants and is ready to move on. The play is not without humor, and the actors don't overplay or underplay that aspect.
Red is set in 1958-1959, when Rothko took a commission to provide a series of murals for the new Four Seasons restaurant in the Joseph Seagram and Sons building on Park Avenue. His wrestling with the idea of working on such a commercial project is at the heart of some of the railings in the script. The actual murals he created, but did not ultimately provide to the Seagrams, are now housed in galleries in London, Japan and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the play, the actors prepare frames and canvases, mix paints and create a few large (red) paintings. They move canvases from work space to storage on hoists provided in Michael Schweikardt's detailed and realist set of a workspace in an old gymnasium. Lighting by Rui Rita is essential to the artistic scene. Director Pamela Berlin keeps things balanced well.
Red continues through December 11 at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.