Art and anger


This pair uncovers a little bit of madness and a little bit of anger.

This pair uncovers a little bit of madness and a little bit of anger.


Red, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $15-$18. Ovation Stage at the Three Penny Theatre, 1723 25th Street; (916) 606-5050; Through October 19.

Rated 5.0

Abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is often represented as a brusque, condescending bully as well as an immensely talented painter. It’s how he’s written in John Logan’s Tony Award-winning play Red, and also portrayed by Steve Buri in his noteworthy performance for Ovation Stage’s production of Red.

This two-person, no-intermission play is powerful both in material and in delivery. And it’s made all the more intense in the small Three Penny Theatre, where you feel like a fly on Rothko’s 1958 studio wall, witnessing volatile outbursts aimed at his young art assistant. To add authenticity, the compact stage is lined with reproductions of his renowned large, red-infused paintings which Rothko layers with both massive amounts of paint and his internal emotional pain.

Red captures a pivotal moment in Rothko’s career as he becomes a commercial commodity when commissioned to paint a group of murals for the exclusive Four Seasons Restaurant. And at the same time, he senses he’s becoming passé as ’60s pop art begins to enter the scene. As a literary device, Red introduces us to a young assistant, Ken (Kyle Burrow), who admires and then challenges Rothko’s theories of art, philosophies of life, the core of the artistic spirit, and artistic hypocrisies.

The play presents provocative, powerful and heady intellectual issues, with emotions mirrored by the classical music constantly played in Rothko’s studio: What’s art? Who is the real interpreter of the art—the painter or the viewer? What is artistic authenticity? When is art self-indulgent? When does it turn cliché, and is commercialism an artistic sellout?

Buri has the guts to authentically portray a complex, self-indulgent, arrogant asshole—someone we begin to understand, but don’t particularly like. It’s a skillful performance, though it could use a wee bit of subtlety at times. And Burrow aptly demonstrates the progression from naïve painter’s assistant to someone who finally outgrows his mentor.