Kim Collier returns to Canadian Stage to direct Red which explores the fictionalized relationship between the unpredictable surrealist artist Mark Rothko and his young assistant Ken. John Logan’s masterful script won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and it is easy to see why. There is so much to sink your teeth into with this piece—the passion, struggle, desire, the pain. The writing is razor-sharp and hearing the poetry ofLogan’s words is worth the price of admission alone.
The show overall is a solid piece of theatre. The set by David Boechler was striking. Rothko’sBowery Streetstudio was an old, converted YMCA building and the set captured that cavernous starkness. Between scenes, large panels enclosed the space into a tight white cube where art, colours and time lines were projected.
Some of the lighting choices were a bit obvious. A tense moment was reached in the show and suddenly the lighting would shift dramatically. I wish it could have been executed more subtly. In this show, it would have been more effective if the lighting almost crept in so the audience didn’t notice it. I was really conscious of the lighting shifts and found it distracting.
The musical score was also a bit of an assault. Rather than underscoring the beauty of the words in this show, it seemed to overpower them. Yes, some of the music used was what inspired Rothko during the painting of his murals for The Four Seasons Hotel but it seemed a bit clunky and heavy handed at times. The show has so many big ideas and grand acting choices, it wasn’t necessary to have that competing against the lighting and sound.
Shaw veteran Jim Mezon takes on the mighty role of Mark Rothko. Rothko was all about fire and fury and Mezon delivers, though I thought at times his angry rants were a bit pushed and I would have liked the vulnerability that he showed at the end of the play to sink in a bit deeper and make an appearance earlier on in the piece.
David Coomber is such a charismatic performer, you just really like the guy and that is a powerful place to be as an actor because half your work is done if you have the audience on your side. He definitely holds his weight against the powerful presence of Mezon. I am not sure I entirely bought Coomber as the orphaned child of two parents. He was a bit too neat with the performance, especially when he recounts the horrific details of finding his murdered parents. I wanted to see the underlying suffering and grief and it just wasn’t there.
Mezon and Coomber are solid sparring partners although they didn’t always connect. I am interested to see what this show will look like once they settle into it a bit more. One of my favourite moments of the show, is when the two actors painted a red canvas live on stage. Who knew watching such a thing would be so thrilling? But it was, and upon its completion, it received a well deserved round of applause.
Red asks the same question again and again, “what do you see?” What I saw was a great script, solid performances, a delicious set and a play that is definitely worth seeing.
Red will be on stage in Toronto from November 19 to December 17, 2011 at the Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St. E). After opening in Toronto, the production will travel to the Vancouver Playhouse from January 14 to February 4, 2012 and The Citadel Theatre in Edmonton from February 11 to March 4, 2012.
Tickets from $22 to $99 available online at www.canadianstage.com or 416.368.3110