Rothko biodrama may be Broadway-bound

Will Broadway soon be bathed in “Red?”

London’s Donmar Warehouse in recent seasons has spawned New York transfers of “Frost/Nixon,” “Mary Stuart” and “Hamlet” with Jude Law, one of the major earners of the fall.

The latter production was directed by Donmar a.d. Michael Grandage, who also helms “Red,” about American abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. The play opened Dec. 8, penned by John Logan, until recently busy as screenwriter on projects including “Sweeney Todd” and “The Aviator.”

London reviewers gave high marks to the two-character drama and to Grandage’s lean production, including stars Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant.

Transfer rumors have begun to reach Broadway, with the play tipped to arrive before the end of the current season. Such a move makes sense given the enduring fascination with Rothko as an iconoclastic figure in 20th century American culture.

Here’s what the critics said:

  • Praising “the imaginative symbiosis between Grandage’s riveting production and Logan’s play,” Varietys David Benedict pointed to the playwright’s smart use of a mystery arc to lift the work above the cliches of standard artist biodrama. He acknowledged Logan’s “bracingly unsentimental” handling of the material, and the cast’s seamless collaboration. “The actors’ individual strengths are remarkable, but it’s the quality of their listening to each other that makes them mesmerizing.”

  • The Guardian’s Michael Billington also admired the detailed attention to Rothko’s creative process. “What emerges is something rare in modern drama: a totally convincing portrait of the artist as a working visionary.” He added: “It’s a measure of the play’s success that it makes you want to rush out and renew acquaintance with Rothko’s work.”

  • “Logan has crafted a play that deals intelligently with the trials of creativity,” wrote Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. “In Michael Grandage’s finely tuned production its psychological torsions come thrillingly alive.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in the Times found “Red” “didactic” and “pretty eventless,” but confessed that the power of production, play and performances won him over. He also credited Logan for conveying “Rothko’s denunciation of the growing triviality of an America in love with fame, celebrity and Andy Warhol.”

  • Chief dissenter among the daily critics was Charles Spencer in the Telegraph, dismissing the play as “a portrait of the artist as insufferable egotist.” While calling “Red” “second-rate,” he went on to predict that it “will almost certainly become a snob hit among the chattering classes.”

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