on May 20, 2010
For anyone fortunate enough to have seen the Donmar Warehouse production of RED with Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne it will come as no surprise that John Logan's script yields fresh fruit with each new reading. As literate and passionate exploration of the creative process, the play positively requires--demands--that most important aspect of art--the audience's participation, the audience's thinking. The immediate topical focus of the play, of course, is Mark Rothko, but its ultimate concerns lie far beyond the boundaries of one man's canvas. RED is a masterpiece.
on July 7, 2010
I'm a sucker for think-pieces like this. I'm old fashioned enough that I actually want to be challenged by art. "Challenged"? Hell, I believe its essential to anyones proof of existence that they be willing to run directly at an oncoming train for the experience of being completely changed by the impact. And, yes, I'm the one with the father who would stand in the museums in the 1950's and say about abstract expressionism, "My kid coulda done that." Or, about Rothko, "If I painted a wall that unevenly, I'd be fired." Thankfully, I eventually moved to Houston and discovered the Rothko Chapel where I spent many quiet, dimly lit hours alone and in the company of friends with those paintings (thanks to Dominique deMenille). I returned to all of this (from New Hampshire) with the PBS broadcast of Simon Schama's Power of Art. The hour on Rothko's Seagram's Four Seasons mural was the climactic, eight episode in the series. All of the quotations are there. All of the questions are there. And the question of money and art gets a full-body slam. (Rothko famously told Philip Johnson, the architect, 'No one who pays that kind of money for that kind of food is going to see any paintings of mine,' and send the commissioning fee, the equivalent of $2 million, back.) Since I saw the Schama first and have watched it many times, I venture that the play dramatizes the contents of the Schama program (same source? collaboration between the authors? zeitgeist?) introducing the catalyst of an artists' assistant. No matter. If you're attracted to think pieces, especially think pieces devoted to contemporary (for me, anyway) art and contemporary issues in art, both the Schama and the Logan were created for you. Here's a two-engined train you should run at with all your might.
Anyone who has the privilege of seeing a performance of John Logan's extraordinarily powerful and immensely intelligent play RED will want to buy this script version of the play: there is so much information about art, art history, art and the emotional experience of becoming immersed in paintings, learning about the dialogue between the artist and the viewer on every page that it is well to read the play repeatedly and slowly to absorb it all.
John Logan's name may not carry the noise of the paparazzi - yet - but it soon will. Briefly, John David Logan was born in San Diego, CA in 1961, grew up in California and New Jersey and was graduated form Northwestern University in 1982. His plays, informed by the fact that he is openly gay, include `Never the Sinner' (a recreation of the infamous Leopold and Loeb case), `Hauptmann' (about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping), `Riverview' and `Red'. His screenplays include `Any Given Sunday', `RKO 281', `Gladiator', `The Aviator', `Star Trek: Nemesis', `The Time Machine', `The Last Samurai', the `Tim Burton-directed musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street', the film adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, and film adaptation for `The Invention of Hugo Cabret'. Extensive important credits, but none of his achievements equals the power of `Red".
Something happens in this play: the audience is present in the dark studio of painter Mark Rothko who has just hired an assistant, Ken, to help him complete the commissioned canvases that are to be part of the installation of the Seagram's' Four Seasons Restaurant in New York. The play has only two characters and the power of the play is dependent on conversations about the history of art, the manner in which art is viewed by the public whose most intellectual adjective when asked their opinion is `fine'. It is the gradual building of repartee between Rothko and Ken that explores the mind of the genius Rothko, his place in the world of art, his dealing with his fears about death and the color black, and his dominance over Ken. As the play progresses Ken gradually rises in his ability to express himself and between Rothko and Ken we discover the manner in which painting can represent our fears and our idiosyncrasies when we actually become active in the process of experiencing art.
Page after page in this book contain profound thoughts about the creative process. If the play is ever in the vicinity of the reader, attendance is a must. The play is currently in performance in Los Angeles with Alfred Molina and Jonathan Groff: it is a breathtaking experience. Grady Harp, August 12
on May 26, 2010
I had read the play before seeing Alfred Molina's stunning performance on Broadway and the writing simply sang. Logan has created a true masterpiece with delicious roles for actors. A wonderful play and an engaging read! While Colette Freedman's Sister Cities used to be my favorite play, I believe it has been surpassed by this remarkably crafted aria.
on January 6, 2014
No one can contend that John Logan isn't one of the most prolific writers of our age - RED, Hugo, Sweeney Todd, RKO 281, Skyfall, The Aviator, Coriolanus, Music From A Locked Room, Hauptmann, Never the Sinner...
Prolific and influential.
With RED he explores the microcosm of one man - Mark Rothko.
The finest production I ever saw of this show was a little show in a cramped but intimate space directed by Wil Oladiran. Like the work of Tracey Letts, Logan makes the set, the props, the lighting, as much a character as the two men on stage. I realized that then.
RED may be one of the finest works of the century, certainly so far.
I think time will prove Rothko right.
And maybe, hopefully, with Logan's help, the black will NOT swallow the red.
on May 11, 2015
Just directed this play - an amazing work. In the 2 year period in which Rothko painted the Seagram murals - What is Red - Red is passion, Sunrise, Atomic Bomb, Arterial Blood. The 2 handed play is a dynamic adagio dance between two personalities. The young fictional helper Ken moves from a rather worshipful young painter to the level of challenging the taciturn Rothko. It is funny and as Rothko says ' I am here to stop your heart." He does.
on February 21, 2015
John Logan's play RED does not need my approval. It won just about every award for original drama on both sides of the Atlantic. In the leading role of Mark Rothko, Alfred Molina won both a Toni and its British equivalent. The play is essentially a conversation between real abstract expressionist Rothko and his fictional assistant Ken. Rothko has been commissioned to do a massive work to be on permanent display at a new ambitious high-end restaurant in New York. All Rothko cares about is art, and this is both his greatest strength and his essential character flaw. He talks incessantly, and that is the play's greatest strength and its essential flaw. The talk is fascinating, and the drama is well served by his rants and his sudden epiphanies. One piece of advice: RED is in five scenes and written to be performed without an intermission. I found reading it that way, straight through from opening to final curtain, gave it momentum.
on September 30, 2015
I happened to see Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmane preform this exquisite play about Rothko at the height of his career as he is just about to start going down. Not that Rothko ever went down, but when your ego is depending on always soaring....
very potent and true
on January 7, 2015
Red is modern prose. Logan's words are magnificent, an omage to the subject he bases his play on. This play has only two characters but what characters they are. Mark Rothko and his intern Ken... In this setting Logan takes you though the entire human condition. By making Rothko bigger than life itself; the character is as bright as the sun blinding everything and everyone in the room... But by the end of the play it is Ken and his youth that eclipses Rothko's sun and makes him realize his time in the art world is over. The emotional conflict by Ken wanting to be seen and Rothko's refusal to acknowledge him, and then at the end to be treated as equals is breathtaking in scope. I highly recommend this play to the seasoned actor, who in Rothko has a life to absolutely tear into and relish. Logan's words are a thing of beauty that any actor worth his salt would love to repeat and make live.
on September 21, 2012
This play by John Logan was at times funny (if a little corny), at times poignant, always interesting and easy to read. It offers the reader and, hopefully the theater audience, a challenging lesson in living with integrity. While it makes no pretense at being any kind of epic tale, it is very well written, tracking the developing relationship of the two characters in a fairly realistic, meaningful and often powerful way over a relatively short period of time. It is also quite educational with respect to modern art and artists though at its heart it is clearly more about being true to one's convictions.