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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Vibrant Red at Seattle Repertory Theatre

Also see David's reviews of Mamma Mia! and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice

Red
Connor Toms and Dennis Arndt
The meaning of "hot" in show business terms could currently be a synonym for playwright/screenwriter John Logan. In 2011 alone, Hugo, the dazzling Scorsese masterwork, was a Golden Globe Winner and Oscar Nominee for Best Picture, while Rango, the animated western spoof with Johnny Depp in the title role, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film (and Logan was also the estimable screenwriter for a little film adaptation, also starring Depp, called Sweeney Todd in 2007). His recent Tony Award winning play Red is now playing in a riveting production at Seattle Rep, sharply directed by Richard E.T. White.

Red is a fictionalized look inside the workshop of lauded painter Mark Rothko, set in the late 1950s, when the artist's career was at or near its apex. During a two year plus period, a young fellow painter named Ken (an amalgam of several real people) is his assistant, and their relationship dynamic is the heart of the play. Separated in age by the better part of three decades, Rothko sees Ken for the most part as an employee only, and only allows himself and the audience to look inside Ken's fragile psyche, that of a young man forever haunted by a childhood tragedy. Rothko is fascinated by himself, abhors his rivals, and has hired himself for big bucks to paint a series of works to be displayed in the in-construction Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. Director White keeps the pace of the intermission-less 90-minute play crackling, and has cast two actors of distinction as Rothko and Mark.

Veteran stage, screen and television actor Dennis Arndt, a frequent visitor to the Rep stage, creates a Rothko whom those unfamiliar with the painter can easily understand. Arndt shows us a man who would be fascinating to talk to and be around in limited doses, but not so much were you his captive "audience" for an extended period. The zenith of his performance is his riveting description of the contempt he finds he has for the newly opened Four Seasons on the virtual eve of his work being installed there. Connor Toms more than holds his own as Ken's deference to his employer gradually gives way to questioning and criticism of a man who is clearly not the father figure he desires. Toms' raw remembrance of tragedy is well-modulated as well as heart-wrenching. White has orchestrated his two stars into a deftly unforgettable relationship, devoid of sentimentality.

Kent Dorsey's scenic design is a wholly satisfying vision of the world where Rothko lives, lacking only the paint fumes, and the passage of time is wonderfully created (in no small part with the actors physical assistance), and the lighting design by Robert Peterson lives up to the challenges of bringing out the looks and dynamics of the painted canvasses. Brendan Patrick Hogan has created both a complementary original musical score, and has chosen well the music cues that take place when played on the vintage onstage phonograph.

Red runs through March 24, 2012, at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; For more information call 206-443-2222 or go to www.seattlerep.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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