Red, John Logan's Tony® award-winning play, takes you into the compelling world of abstract expressionist painter, Mark Rothko (Stephen Rowe) just as he is newly commissioned to paint a collection of murals for a famed, high-society New York restaurant. Ken (Haley Joel Osment), a young, aspiring painter signs on to become Rothko's assistant which turns out to be a demanding but intrinsically educational endeavor. Together they take a two-year journey that sheds light on the clash between antiquated art sensibilities and modern pop culture, in addition to delving into the debate of where art stands in relation to commercialism.
From the pungent smell of cigarette smoke to the sweeping strains of classical music, the Philadelphia Theatre Company's production successfully immerses you in Rothko's controlling domain. Even the scene changes, performed by the characters themselves, keep up the continual progression through everyday work in an artist's studio. At one point, the audience is treated to the experience of seeing Rothko and Ken prime a canvas, a moment that shines due to clever lighting.
Brilliant and inspiring language prevails in this play where the tumultuous chemistry between Rothko and Ken ebbs and flows through disagreement, discussion and the complete lack thereof. Stephen Rowe is splendid in his portrayal of the intense yet vulnerable Mark Rothko. Haley Joel Osment effectively delivers the ample combination of an unwavering thick-skinned young man with an unaffected intelligence.
Rothko repeatedly asks "What do you see?," forcing Ken (and the audience) to look closer and think deeper when viewing art. The same should be applied to Red, which is well-worth your consideration.
Performances of Red by the Philadelphia Theatre Company run through November 13. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/.
Photo Credit: Mark Garvin