When I was being being mentored by Peter Corrigan, that infamous architect and stage designer who designed, amongst other cheeky buildings around Australia, the VCA Drama Building, he spoke at length about colour in design.
“That business of colour is … there are certain rules; you couldn’t put chrome yellow in a bedroom, you know ‘fallen women’ wear red, the best colour of all is black; they’re just a string of rules of thumb. If you’re working in comedy, you don’t use primaries; and if you’re working on a Phil Motherwell gaol epic, there’s not much use in introducing pastels, unless there’s useful potential to take the design-work in a different direction to the text.”
Entitled Red, playwright John Logan has not only suggested, but promised to us a play ablaze with everything that this, most transparently passionate of colours, could represent. (For the record, there are no fallen women here.) Incidentally, it is worth a trip to the NGV around the corner to witness one of Mark Rothko’s works on permanent display, aptly named No. 37 (Red.)
Colin Friels delivers an affecting performance as Mark Rothko, the beloved agitated hero of the Abstract Expressionist movement, America’s national treasure and favorite subject to many a student of Art History. He is working on a major commission to paint murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant at Mies Van der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s recently completed Seagrams building. Within the confines of his controlled studio, attended by his seemingly benign assistant, Ken (Andre de Vanny,) he deliberates, and exasperates, over these works with the fervor of a great Expressionist artist.
Throughout this process, the two characters develop an enthralling relationship. The placidly surefooted assistant quickly sheds his status of mere protégé and soon provides the masterful Zen that appeases Rothko’s uncontrollable emotions: An exquisite balance that might have been influenced by one of Rothko’s paintings.
Like most movies, a climactic revelation ensues and Rothko’s character finds redemption, momentarily, through an all-too-comfortable dénouement.
Where Shaun Gurton’s set design succeeds is how it recedes politely into the backdrop to let the Tony-award-winning writing deliver itself.
Jill Johanson’s costumes blend harmoniously with the piece. I must mention that I was especially drawn to a pair of pants that Ken sports which represents the period, mood and character remarkably well.
Alkinos Tsilimidos’ direction ensures powerful and immediately captivating performances that exude the emotions necessary to convey the profundities experienced in each of the artist’s paintings. It is compact and quite acceptable as a short 90-minute play. Stylish as it may have seemed at first, though, I feel that it could have teased the audience with a tinge of complexity in its resolution.
Still, it is one of MTC’s more triumphant productions that offers any creative an insightful and valuable discourse that is scrumptiously more entertaining than a lecture on Art History.