A splash of ‘Red’ tonight at Pendragon Theatre
SARANAC LAKE – It’s the color of sunsets, apples and blood.
It’s a play whose format is as simple as its name implies. There’s one stage set and two actors – Burdette Parks as artist Mark Rothko and Tyler Nye as his assistant, Ken.
The music is mostly Mozart, and brief fits of action only serve to punctuate the dialogue, which is heavy and deep. Within that dialogue is where “Red” shows its true colors.
“Red” is a Tony-award-winning play written by John Logan that revolves around Rothko’s dilemma over selling a series of murals to an upscale corporate restaurant in New York City called The Four Seasons.
The sale would earn him $35,000 – that’s almost $275,000 in today’s cash – but it would also make him part of a culture he unabashedly despises, a shallow life he associates with the color black, where art is merely a decoration, only to be purchased because it looks nice.
Rothko strives to tear down that thinking and smear away the work of pop artists like Andy Worhol and Roy Lichtenstein by replacing it with his own work. The problem is, that message can only gwt out if people see the work, and Rothko seems to think no one is worthy of that.
“He was always going through a psychological conundrum,” said actor Burdette Parks. “That was just the nature of his psychology. He was a conflicted, angsty artist. That whole group of artists that came up during the 1930s and ’40s, they were all struggling to find their own thing, to identify their own art, just flailing about.”
Parks researched Rothko and said he identified four variations of the man: the historical Rothko found in biographies, the Rothko who exists within John Logan’s script, the Rothko that Parks has gleaned from his research and the Rothko director Kim Bouchard wants him to portray.
“I think that exploration is important for any actor, especially when dealing with historical figures,” Bouchard said. “Our job is to do ‘Red,’ the play. Is it true to Rothko? Some things probably will be. But this group of actors and designers and directors, we’re going to produce a play based on our explorations and what’s important to us about the story.”
Rothko’s assistant, Ken, steps in as a naive assistant whose nervous admiration only seems to fuel the artist’s philosophical rants.
“Ken seems to be the presumptive, overweening feeling that Rothko has about the world in general,” Parks said. “He was one of the painters who made a change in the direction of modern art, and saw their contribution to be a really significant improvement. Things that came along after them were going the wrong way, as far as they were concerned.”
Rothko drums his methods into Ken’s head while Ken struggles to earn his employer’s respect.
Ken’s own personal demons are revealed as the play progresses, and he slowly proves himself not to be the clueless twit Rothko initially had him pegged for. That doesn’t mean the pair holds hands and walks off into the bright, red sunset together, though. The dynamics of their relationship quickly shift as Ken comes into his own, with both characters sharing the role of antagonist and protagonist because both seek truth on their own terms.
To complement the production, artists from the Adirondack Artists’ Guild have created a series of “Red”-inspired art, which is on display in Pendragon’s lobby through the play’s final showing on July 5.
The Thursday night opening of “Red” will kick off Pendragon’s summer series, “Dreamscapes.” It’s nothing short of a colorful way to begin a vibrant season that includes “Man of La Mancha,” “Harvey,” “Death of a Salesman” and “Soldier’s Tale.”
On the surface, “Red” is a vibrant mix of what happens when art collides with capitalism. The tones beneath the surface are much darker, and they collide to form a portrait of a man striving to make sense of his own ideals, ego and fear.
And by the end of the performance, only one color remains.