Wednesday, March 07, 2012

theatre notes. Red.

A passage from The English Patient runs through my head during the opening scenes of Red. Almasy was talking about the painter Caravaggio and his painting of David with the head of Goliath. I think he meant this famous painting, a double-self portrait done near the end of Caravaggio's life, showing him in his youth (David) and then in old age (Goliath). Here, too, we have the aging Rothko and his assistant, himself a young artist, in that shifting dance between past, present, and future. The Abstract Expressionist - if we can so describe Rothko, as much as he disdains the label - stands on the bodies of the artists that came before him - the Cubists - planting his paintbrush as if it were a stake marking new territory, or a sword in Picasso's heart. He is not ready to concede that the next wave will do the same in turn.

Red is, like one of Rothko's paintings, more of an abstraction than a play with a clear story. It takes place in a very specific point in time - the years when he was working on a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City - and yet it feels like something fluid and undefined. The two men are like the two Caravaggios in the painting of David and Goliath. It's a wonderful thing to see Connor Toms as the assistant and Denis Arndt as Rothko, both of whom I know from other plays here in Seattle. It's a wonderful to recognize a face, a way of moving and talking, to see someone grow and evolve as an actor, whether they are in the early years of their career or at the height of their powers.

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