RED at the Vancouver Playhouse (theatre review)
As someone who takes the value of mentorship at heart, and who values the relationship between mentee and mentor, RED (presented at the Vancouver Playhouse) resonated with me very, very strongly. RED is a two-man play about Russian-American expressionist painter Mark Rothko and his apprentice Ken. Both Jim Mezon (as Rothko) and David Coomber (Ken) are sublime in their respective roles.
RED is an intellectual play, admittedly, but not an inaccessible one. It paints (allow me to use the metaphor) a rich profile of Rothko as a little bit of a ruthless mentor to his apprentice, Ken. The play develops an interesting storyline that is very nicely complimented with an amazing set design and scenography. Throughout two years of apprenticeship, Ken comes to learn from Rothko about painting, inspiration, the undeniable tension between painting for a living (e.g. commercializing art) and living to paint (e.g. creating art through painting because you NEED to create). Ken (and Rothko) both learn from each other to confront their own demons, fears and needs.
One of the elements of the play that also resonated with me enormously was the need for cultural and artistic enrichment that derives from the teachings of Rothko. Rothko asks Ken if he has read Nietzche (allegedly, one of Rothko’s inspirations). What he really means is is Ken really well-rounded, well-cultured, well-prepared to be a painter by having experienced a broad variety of learning experiences?. I think that’s part of the reason why this play resonated with me so much: my parents insisted we HAD to be well-rounded, artistically, intellectually, and in sports and humanitarian work. We couldn’t JUST be good at one thing. And Rothko’s teachings actually enhance the life of Ken. But Ken’s eagerness to learn from Rothko also transform the otherwise grumpy painter.
By John Logan, and directed by Kim Collier, RED is a co-production with Canadian Stage and The Citadel Theatre. It’s on at the Vancouver Playhouse until February 4th, and you REALLY should see it. It’s worth every single minute of the 100 minutes it runs (without intermission). Below a vignette of both actors learning to paint like Rothko.
You can buy tickets to RED at the Vancouver Playhouse with this link.
Disclosure: My guest and I attended RED on media tickets. As always, I retain editorial control over anything posted on my site.