Here in New York, the shows featured in Broadway are the second reason for which tourists come to visit the Big Apple. And even though Broadway's offer is notoriously topped by musicals, great plays are also featured in Manhattan's iconic Theater District.
Over the past few years I've felt deeply fascinated by the lives of creative people. So when I found out that there was a play in Broadway about the life of legendary painter Mark Rothko, I knew I had to go see it.
After reading several great reviews published in the New York media, and been encouraged to watch the play by a teacher and my roommate -both theater lovers-, I finally made up my mind and decided to buy a ticket.
The play goes by the name of Red, and it describes the two years Rothko invested in creating, along with the help of his assistant, a series of paintings that would be displayed at a new restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel of New York City.
Over the 90 minutes of the play, a strong mentor-disciple bond will develop between the only two characters of the play -outstandingly interpreted by the award-winning actor Alfred Molina (Frida, An education) and the Broadway debutant Eddie Redmayne.
However, Red is first and foremost a master class of art. Each and every one of the several lessons Rothko offers to his assistant is an absolute intellectual treat. Additionally, many of the reactions of the young apprentice towards the egotistic attacks of his pupil are simply astonishing.
According to John Logan (writer) and Michael Grandage (director), Red "constitutes an intellectual and emotional debate, and it also represents an exploration inside Rothko's creativity" -one of the most attractive and interesting features of the play.
The stage recreates a small part of the studio where Rothko and his helper worked on the paintings -the other characters of the play, silent yet of an intimidating presence. The opportunity to have a glimpse of the genius, the ego and even some doubts of such an artist as Rothko is the best gift a play like this brings to the public.
Another remarkable achievement of the play, from the authors' point of view, is "its construction of the portrait of the titanic figure of the 'mentor', that person that challenges you and defies you constantly to give your best effort to become a better artist, to think more profoundly". Nonetheless, not only Ken (Eddie Redmayne's character) is the receptacle of all those lessons, but it's also the audience who end up by receiving all these wonderful thoughts on art.
According to Alfred Molina, "Mark Rothko embodies the greatest quality of any artist, that consists in being more preoccupied in being listened or understood, than in being liked, admired or adored. The rage that you can sense in Rothko over certain passages of the play is filled by passion, and not by anger. That's what motivates him -besides the fact that he was obsessed with tragedy. For Rothko, there had to be tragedy in every brush. And that's what painting meant to him."
One of the things that shocked me the most about the profile of this fascinating artist, was the seriousness with which Rothko took his job. Because that's what painting meant literally to him -an occupation. Mark Rothko used to come every day to his studio at nine o'clock in the morning and worked until five in the afternoon, wearing a suit and a tie and carrying a suitcase. "Just like a banker", he says in one scene of the play.
During one of the most powerful passages of Red, Rothko inquires his assistant to give him an opinion on one of the paintings he has just finished:
- What do you see? Tell me, what is it that you see? Look carefully. This paintings need compassion, that's what they were created for. Look at the paintings, with attention, with respect, with sensibility. Look at them, but like a human being. Tell me then, what is it that you see? What's your opinion?
- I like it -Ken answers, shortly.
- Of course you like it! Everyone likes everything nowadays! But tell me, where is the discernment? Where is the difference between what you like and what you respect? Where is the significance?
When you get out of the theater, a warning seems to start ringing inside your head. The next time you stand before a painting, you better look at it with all the attention and seriousness its art certainly deserves.
* Update: The play has received 7 Tony Award nominations including Best Play, Best Actor (Alfred Molina), Best Featured Actor (Eddie Redmayne) and Best Director (Michael Grandage)