Actor John Lombardi asks that question as he scrutinizes his work and portrays with fierce intensity the controversial and brilliant mind of famed abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko at the height of his career in “Red.”
The Tony Award winning Broadway drama by John Logan is being played through April 22 at Studio Theatre Tierra Del Sol, 806 San Marino Drive, The Villages.
The two-character bio-drama takes places in Rothko’s New York studio in the late 1950s after he has been commissioned to paint a group of murals for the exclusive Four Seasons restaurant.
Rothko lectures about art to his new assistant, Ken (played by Colton Butcher), and tells him “I am not your teacher,” but the artist clearly wants to be understood as he feels paintings need to pulsate and be seen in a protected space.
The artist says with conviction there is “tragedy with every brush stroke,” and he reveals to his assistant, “one thing I fear my friend, that one day the black will swallow the red.”
Ken gradually begins to challenge Rothko’s theories of color and questions his integrity in accepting a commission to work on the commercial project, since diners would not appreciate his paintings with the level of passion the artist would want.
And Rothko makes it very clear he dislikes the rise of pop art—the Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, all of whom he says lack depth and substance. The audience sees and hears heated debates between the artist and his assistant on the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in Rothko’s paintings. We also see Ken grow stronger throughout the play.
Ultimately, Rothko stops working on the Four Seasons’ project and decides to return the money. He realizes it’s an inappropriate place for his murals to be seen.
Both actors in “Red” do a wonderful job of portraying intense emotions in their roles, and one measure of this play’s success is that it does make you want to learn more about Rothko and his work.
Born Markus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz in 1903 in Lativa and of Russia Jewish descent, he died in 1970 in New York City.
Rothko probably would have been stunned if he knew one of his paintings from 1961, titled Orange, Red, Yellow, was sold for $86.9 million on May 8, 2012. The seller was the estate of David Pincus and the sale price reportedly represented a record price for post-war contemporary art at a public auction and for Rothko works in general.
Tickets for “Red” can be reserved by calling 352-751-7799 or through email: TheSharonStudio.com.