×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Red

Alfred Molina's volcanic incarnation of painter Mark Rothko is reason enough to rush to the Taper for John Logan's "Red," to say nothing of the involving text and visual audacity of helmer Michael Grandage's impeccably imported Donmar Warehouse production.

With:
Mark Rothko - Alfred Molina
Ken - Jonathan Groff

Alfred Molina’s volcanic incarnation of painter Mark Rothko is reason enough to rush to the Taper for John Logan’s “Red,” to say nothing of the involving text and visual audacity of helmer Michael Grandage’s impeccably imported Donmar Warehouse production.

Logan’s screen profiles of Howard Hughes (“The Aviator”), Orson Welles (“RKO-281”) and Georges Melies (“Hugo”) display his intense interest in the psychology of creation. (Toss in “Sweeney Todd,” too; quite the evil genius, that Fleet Street barber.) For “Red” a forgotten historical footnote gives Logan an unparalleled chance to examine what makes an artist tick: the legendary abstract expressionist’s 1958 commission to create a mural series for the ultramodern Seagram Building’s Four Seasons eatery.

Sure, it’s just a restaurant. But “I will make it a temple!” Rothko vows with the egotism only an aging master worried about legacy and impending death can summon up. The man is both exhilarated and cowed by this prospective magnum opus, as overjoyed to dive deeper into his characteristic geometric red blotches as he is physically terrified to be swallowed up by the black surrounding them.

Popular on Variety

To hold back his demons, he talks. Rants, really, about art and his contemporaries; collectors’ philistinism; and more or less the entire range of life’s disappointments and triumphs. It all poses a pretty cerebral task for any actor, complicated by Rothko’s having been a “looker” who could stare for hours at a blank canvas without lifting a brush.

Anyone doubting whether Rothko’s struggles could be made theatrically immediate hasn’t reckoned on Molina’s sublime technique. This is one thesp who can register six or more thoughts at a time racing across his mug even as he stares out and puffs on a cigarette. Then he goes into motion — prowling, darting, stopping and starting again, his physicalization clearly reflecting every step of a brilliant yet tortured mind.

Every lion in winter needs to beware the growling cub, and Jonathan Groff gives a thoughtful rendering of Ken, the sorcerer’s reluctant apprentice who ends up serving as his savage conscience.

The only pickup member of the “Red” team since its voyage from London through Gotham, Groff exudes a stiff, actorish self-consciousness in the early scenes. Before long, though, he sketches a strong arc of an ambitious wannabe (clearly suggesting the young Rothko) developing skepticism toward, and finally compassion for, the father figure he’s destined, in the way of all crown princes, to supplant.

Both actors’ paths are greased by Grandage’s typically canny direction, in which tiny gestures or position shifts can take your breath away with their emotional or thematic resonance. The celebrated “ballet” sequence, in which the men prime a canvas’ blood-red basecoat with a panache one can only describe as sexual, is but one instance, out of dozens, of dramatic harmony among scribe, helmer, designers and thesps.

Grandage’s Tony-sweeping design team literally dramatizes the age-old aesthetic conversation — reason vs. chaos; Apollo vs. Dionysus — which obsesses Rothko and Ken. Christopher Oram’s towering studio set, with its strictly cubist corners, conveys classical order even as faded cascades of splashed red remind us of the reckless energy this room has housed. Similarly, Adam Cook’s sound plot alternates Vivaldi and Beethoven elegance with ominous atonal strains suitable to the darkest Hitchcock thriller.

Most striking of all is Neil Austin’s amalgam of realistic and expressionistic lighting, in which a normal floodlamp can suddenly pinpoint a character’s terror. Austin keeps transforming plainly objective illumination sources into subjective creative statements, inspiring both insight and discomfort in the spectator — just as Rothko’s art does.

The world brought alive under Austin’s instruments is completely recognizable. So is the excruciating pain at its heart.

Red

Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles; 515 seats; $100 top

Production: A Center Theater Group presentation of a play in one act by John Logan. Directed by Michael Grandage.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Christopher Oram; lighting, Neil Austin; composer and sound, Adam Cork; production stage manager, David S. Franklin. Opened, reviewed Aug. 12, 2012. Runs through Sept. 9. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Mark Rothko - Alfred Molina
Ken - Jonathan Groff

More Legit

  • Jagged Little Pill review

    Broadway Review: 'Jagged Little Pill'

    Nearly 25 years after “Jagged Little Pill” hit the shelves of record stores, Alanis Morissette’s innovative 1995 album has arrived on Broadway under the muscular direction of Diane Paulus, who launched this galvanic production at the American Repertory Theater. The show’s supportive book by screenwriter Diablo Cody interprets Morissette’s musical idiom as a universal domestic [...]

  • Claire Warden

    Listen: Let's Talk About Sex Onstage

    The craft of intimacy direction is taking Broadway by storm — and on the latest episode of Variety’s Stagecraft, Broadway’s first intimacy director explains why, and breaks down the ways in which she’s helping to revolutionize how actors get intimate onstage. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Warden, whose credits this season include “Jagged Little [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    Mark Addy, Dan Stevens Head Broadway Cast of 'Hangmen'

    Mark Addy and Dan Stevens will appear in the Broadway premiere of Martin McDonagh’s “Hangmen.” Addy, best known for his work on “Game of Thrones” and “The Full Monty,” starred in the off-Broadway production of the black comedy. It’s the first time Stevens, beloved for his turn on “Downton Abbey,” has appeared on the Great [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen Jordan Fisher

    Jordan Fisher Joins 'Dear Evan Hansen' in Title Role on Broadway

    Jordan Fisher will be Broadway’s next Evan Hansen, joining the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen” in the musical’s title role. Fisher, best known to theater enthusiasts for his stint in “Hamilton” and playing Mark Cohen in Fox’s “Rent: Live,” will play the role for a limited 16-week engagement starting Jan. 28. “Evan Hansen is a [...]

  • SUBJECTS] seen at the Lincoln Center

    Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall Set for Major Renovation

    Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall is set to undergo a major renovation that will lead to the facility being closed for months-long stretches starting in 2022. Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic announced Monday that the overhaul will require the temporary shuttering of Geffen Hall from May 2022 through October 2022 and again from [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content