Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Asolo Repertory Theater

Mark Zeisler and JD Taylor
Right at the start of John Logan's Red, painter Mark Rothko speaks about how people of his time (late 1950s) are "liking" everything. He explains that, instead of having true deep emotions and interaction with everything from art to entertainment, they are content to just like it all. This touches on one of my favorite themes in life: that I dislike mediocrity and stupidity but especially so when they masquerade as a virtue. I was instantly hooked on this play about real life abstract painter Mark Rothko and his fictional assistant Ken. Through interaction over a two-year time span they examine some deep philosophical issues such as how new ideas replace old, the existentialism of specific colors—most especially red—and how young people should interact with older people, among others. The play is a rich tapestry of human emotion and ideas. I walked out of the performance wanting to grab a copy of the play's text so as to more fully realize all that was offered by playwright John Logan. The ironic part of this is that I was very unsure that a play about a visual artist was something that I was going to like, yet I ended up feeling that it was by far the most richly rewarding piece of theater I have seen this season.

This production of Red is a co production of Maltz Jupiter Theater and Asolo Repertory Theater, which gives the actors a longer run to perfect their characterizations, and it really shows. The run at Asolo Rep's follows the one at Maltz Jupiter Theater, so by the time I saw this show, the actors had been living in these characters for a period of time. Mark Zeisler as Mark Rothko gives a multi-layered performance: curmudgeon, loving European-Jewish immigrant, unhappy not terribly successful painter, and wise philosopher all rolled up in one. JD Taylor also gives a knockout performance, capturing the character's sunny youthfulness and open manner; his Ken never walks anywhere when he can bustle or run. The shear physicality of his performance helps define the character.

The detailed set by James Kronzer was dazzlingly theatrical. Central to all the action is a large easel with pulleys, used to hang the large mural paintings that Rothko is working on. During the talkback, Mark Zeisler told those in attendance that the set was based on the actual location that Rothko inhabited at this time and that it was very realistic. Costumes by Camille Assaf and Lighting Design by Gina Scherr add to the production's effectiveness.

Red by John Logan. Presented by Asolo Repertory Theater and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in a co-Production with Maltz Jupiter Theater at the Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida, 34243. For performance and ticketing information, visit or call 941-351-8000.

Mark Rothko: Mark Zeisler
Ken: JD Taylor

Directed by Lou Jacob
Set Design by James Kronzer
Costume Design by Camille Assaf
Lighting Design Gina Scherr
Sound Design and original Music by Jane Shaw
Stage Manager: Marian Wallace.

Photo: My Unionhouse

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--William S. Oser

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