Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre
Presents Red by John Logan

Also see John's Interview with Michael Colby

JD Taylor and Mark Zeisler
It is 1958, and abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko (Mark Zeisler) has just landed the biggest commission in the history of modern art. He is to paint a series of murals for New York's famed Four Seasons restaurant. He hires an assistant named Ken (JD Taylor) whose job it is to mix paints, make frames, stretch and prime canvases, and do anything else requested of him as Rothko spends the next two years completing some forty paintings in his Bowery artist studio (the real life Rothko took only three months). As in the play, after visiting the Four Seasons, the Rothko considered the restaurant's dining atmosphere too pretentious and inappropriate for the display of his works. He immediately refused to continue the project, and returned the commission cash advance to Joseph Seagram and Sons which had commissioned the murals.

The Russian born Rothko is difficult, dark, brilliant, opinionated and unapologetically self-absorbed. He barks orders at Ken at the same time as he spews philosophies of art. He forever exams the why, where, what and how of the very existence of art. He discusses his own influences, such as Nietzsche, mythology, surrealism and light, sometimes spending days just looking at what he is working on before making the next brush stroke. Despite his own fierce protection of his art he has odd disregard for others who would view, praise or buy it. He even says his true intention for the murals is to paint "something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won't. People can stand anything these days."

The day to day work relationship between Rothko and Ken is tempered by Rothko's mercurial moods. While they share a passion for art and a desire to succeed, their fundamental definitions of art and success differ. Mark Zeisler seems a bit stilted in the first scene as he attempts to handle Rothko's style of speech when discussing philosophies and concepts of art. His delivery becomes more connected and believable as the play progresses, but there are times when he lets the scripted words precede the thought and passion, which should motivate their delivery. He provides nice contrast in his character's calm versus agitated moments. A bit less time raising his voice to make his point would be preferable, however.

JD Taylor brings a tentative, almost boyish quality to the role of Ken. His nearly nervous energy plays beautifully against the utter confidence of Zeisler's Rothko. The seemingly happy nature of Taylor's Ken helps bring greatly needed levity and brief moments of humor to the piece. It also is important that, despite whatever past Ken may have, his attempts at happiness contrast Rothko's self-indulgence in the pain and suffering of art.

The set for this production at the Maltz is well executed, though more attention could have been paid to the manipulation of lighting and its effect on the appearance of color and texture. Some scene transitions ran a bit long on the night attended as they are implemented by just the actors on stage. While the show has a crisp pace, a few staging issues could have been tweaked by cleaner direction. We nearly lose the fact that Ken has brought in (and later removes) a painting to show Rothko. The use of the downstage-center area, where some of the unseen painting are placed, works only until humorous lines by Rothko are delivered right to them (meaning straight out to the audience). With just some minor flaws, this production is a worthy if weighty piece about a fascinating artist.

Red was originally produced in 2009 by the Donmar Warehouse in London. The production transferred to Broadway in 2010, where it ran at the John Golden Theater for a limited engagement from March 11th to June 27th. The play was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning six, including Best Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play, Best Direction of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Play.

John Logan is best known for his screenwriting. He wrote Any Given Sunday and the television movie RKO 281 before receiving an Academy Award nomination for co-writing the film Gladiator in 2000. He received another nomination in 2004 for The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Other films written by Logan include Star Trek: Nemesis, The Time Machine, The Last Samurai, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, for which he received a Golden Globe award. Logan was a successful playwright in Chicago before turning to screenwriting. In addition to Red, his other plays include Never the Sinner, which tells the story of the infamous Leopold and Loeb case; Hauptmann, about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping; and Riverview, a musical melodrama set at Chicago's famed amusement park.

This production of Red will be appearing at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through February 26, 2012. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit, community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, and the Florida Professional Theatre Association. This theatre employees both local and non-local Equity and non-union cast and crew members. The theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd. (just off of A1A) in Jupiter, Florida. For tickets and complete information on the theatre's offerings, contact them by phone at 561/ 575-2223 or 800/ 445-1666, and online at

Mark Rothko: Mark Zeisler*
Ken: JD Taylor*

Director: Lou Jacob**
Scenic Design: James Kronzer+
Lighting Design: Gina Sherr+
Sound Design: Jane Shaw+
Costume Design: Camille Assaf-Doshi+
Stage Manager: Nikki Lint*

*Designates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

**Designates a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union.

+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists, a labor union and professional association of Designers, Artists and Craftspeople.

Photo: Alicia Donelan

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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