Sacramento, CA 95814
John Logan’s Red, winner of the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play, mixes medium and message by exploring the mind of an artist through the language of a playwright. Abstract expressionist Mark Rothko is portrayed in B Street Theatre’s regional premiere of Red both by displayed reproductions of his well-known art incorporated into the set and through interactions he has with his young assistant.
It’s a clever concept, allowing the audience to be engulfed by reproductions of the large and illuminating, red-dominated canvases Rothko was creating in his studio in 1958 and 1959, the setting for this 90-minute play. At the same time, through his interaction with Ken, the young painter hired to assist him, we get a glimpse into Rothko’s equally large personality and ego—temperamental, abusive, overly sensitive, hungry for feedback while callous toward others, but mostly always seeking wisdom, truth and understanding.
The dialogue is highbrow, with conversations delving into art, society, commercialism, consumerism, connoisseurs, messages, meanings, tragedy and legacy. It’s heady stuff, saved from intellectual dryness by the humanizing interaction and backstories of the artist and his assistant, as portrayed by the talented duo of Brian Dykstra (Rothko) and David McElwee (Ken).
The two actors are new to Sacramento, but not new to the play. In an interesting twist, both actors played their respective parts in different regional repertory productions, and their subsequent glowing reviews were noted by B Street’s producers and this show’s director, Jerry Montoya, who brought them together for this production. Wise choice.
Dykstra embodies Rothko’s bold and bombastic personality, while subtly infusing humanity and insecurities about his art, his purpose and society in general. McElwee successfully meets the tricky challenge of capturing Ken, a character that slowly evolves from timid and hesitant to someone who is able to express his opinions while challenging Rothko’s bluster. Together they are a fascinating duo, creating an unlikely partnership, beautifully rendered in a single scene where they prepare a canvas by furiously painting together to the sounds of majestic music.
And an ovation to director Montoya and his creative crew for the artistic aspects so essential to this play—most notably the music, the lighting, and the artist studio set surrounded by the magnificent, imposing recreation of Rothko’s art and vision.