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Cyrano’s Theatre Company presents:



John Logan


Reviewed by Robert Pond

Cyrano’s Theatre Company has produced the bio-drama, Red, about abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. The Tony awarded play, by John Logan, is set in Rothko’s New York studio during 1958-59. The two character play is sometimes a brutal ‘coming of age’ experience for both painter Mark Rothko (Mark Robokoff) and Rothko’s fictional assistant, a young artist, Ken (Jaron Carlson). In Logan’s work, Rothko and Ken are Socrates on steroids.  Good two-character plays are not easy; such plays can be talk-athons or they can just be one actor cueing the orations of another.  John Logan’s Red and Elizabeth Ware’s staging of the work avoids many of these sins.

Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz changed his name to Mark Rothko for fear of being sent back to his birthplace and being drafted into Latvia’s Imperial Russian Army during WWII. Mark Rothko is considered an American artist, spending most of his life in the U.S. living in Portland, New York, and even Texas. At about age 20, Mark Rothko found the artist in himself and studied with Arshile Gorky, whose teaching, according to Rothko, was “overcharged with supervision”, an apt description of Rothko’s own mentoring of his young assistant, Ken in the play.

Rothko began, as many artists do, with reflecting the representational, then on to the adventures of surrealism and the expressionism, and thence to the abstract. In the evolution of his paintings, he would leave the figures and multiforms and transport his work to expressions of colors.  Black being sans color and red the overwhelming saturation of life. Rothko’s greatest fear was that his red would surrender to black.

Despite the abundance of material about Mark Rothko’s life, playwright John Logan brings us a brief but telling period surrounding Rothko’s first commercial commission by the Seagram Corporation, a beverage giant. The artist’s commission was to provide murals for Seagram’s new and very upscale restaurant, “The Four Seasons”. Being disappointed with the design of the restaurant, Rothko was at odds with himself about doing the project and suffered the self-punishment of an artist who is the purest of soul for his art but then allows him to be a hired gun. Critics even accused him of ‘selling out’. There was a suggestion that Rothko’s plan for the murals was to “ruin the appetite of every s.o.b. who ate in that room”. In the play, the young assistant, Ken, and Rothko embark on producing some forty murals to meet the commission. This commission frames the inner drama, Rothko’s relationship with himself and his young assistant. Director Elizabeth Ware brings us a penetrating production of the teacher-student drama with some innovative staging. When the actors ready for their free-flying painting of a canvas, Ware’s staging worried some of us in that we may be included as the target. She moves the play well; no one dozed.

The first thing you see is Margaret Hugi-Lewis’ set. It’s inviting. The set looks lived in and doesn’t have that just-constructed sheen to it. The design is particularly good in the use of the space and the logistics of changes in the settings; it also serves as a prelude to the play.

Mark Robokoff has had an interesting development as an actor from his somewhat amusing debut performance in Life With Father to now being among Anchorage’s A-list talents. He pours new molds to some of his characters, such as a most entertaining Wagner in Bruckner’s Last Finale. Some of Robokoff’s moments in Red were more rage than passion. Jaron Carlson has the role of Ken well in hand and his performance is rewarding to see. Ken’s innocent entry into the jungle of Rothko and his resulting change to a man who has had enough displays impressive acting.  Rothko’s assistant Ken, therein, has become the teacher.

John Logan’s Red is a good play and Cyrano’s production of his work promises a rewarding theatre experience.

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