Burien Actor’s Theatre presents Red, a Tony-Award winning play directed for BAT by Beau Prichard, which continues through May 5, 2024.

Red is a Tony-award winning play by John Logan that chronicles the struggle of abstract artist Mark Rothko to complete a set of commissioned murals for Manhattan’s exclusive Four Seasons restaurant.

The play is comprised of a set of conversations between Rothko (Scott C. Brown) and his young studio assistant Ken (Seamus C. Smith) about Art – what it is and our relationship to it, both as individuals and as a society. 

The play takes place in Rothko’s studio over the span of two years. The set stares the audience down with its backdrop of high-contrast black on red backsplash reminiscent of a scene of violence. This atmosphere is fitting for Rothko’s frequent outbursts and often abusive behavior towards his young assistant. 

Each scene is punctuated by vinyl records playing on a record player, setting the tone for what’s to take place and serving as a point of contrast between the moods of the old painter and the youthful exuberance of his employee.

The performances of Brown and Smith are phenomenal. In a show that is comprised entirely of conversations between the two actors, it is astounding that there is not a single moment that falls flat in the entire 100-minute run. 

Brown embodies Rothko in his unyielding, restrictive conviction of the truth of Art with cantankerous aplomb. Brown does not fall into the caricature of the eccentric grouch, but rather portrays Rothko with a sincere authenticity, so that you believe what he believes. This established authority in his own ideas makes it the more heartbreaking when you see his sense of self begin to waver as the show progresses.

Smith also takes his character on an arc, beginning as a bright-eyed and eager-to-please youth emanating naivete and leaving the stage with the hard-won knowledge of maturity. 

The two actors energetically wrestle one another as the tension of their relationship ebbs and flows, growing and developing throughout the daily rituals of the mundane, moments of ingenuity, and lively conversation that happens as they attempt to figure each other out.

Ultimately, Red asks us to grapple with the concept of Art and the Artiste. The idea of the “suffering artist” has become a caricature of itself in the social consciousness. It is both held in high esteem and in contemptuous satire. The portrait of the “serious artiste” is at once a mystifying god-like figure and a self-important buffoon. Perhaps the pull to see the artist as the former reflects the searing longing we have to perceive something we can believe is meaningful – a true characterization of the hidden inner existence locked away inside our own consciousness. The pull of the latter, meanwhile, is perhaps a way to make peace with the inevitable end of a meaningless run through a hamster wheel of chaos.

Rothko and Ken are the embodiment of both the ideas of Artist as a God and Artist as a Fool. Rothko at first sees himself as one and slowly as the other as we watch him grapple with his own hypocrisy and hastening irrelevance in an artistic culture that is quickly leaving him behind. Ken’s belief in the God-artist slowly dissolves into disillusionment in the face of Rothko’s self-importance. His rage eventually engulfs what he saw as the highest expression of Art. His work is to decide if anything is recoverable from the ashes.

The audience is left to do this work too. If, when the curtain falls, no answers have been found, perhaps you will feel as Rothko hoped you would when he said:

“I am not here to make pretty pictures. I am here to stop your heart.”

Photos

Below are photos of the production, courtesy Michael Brunk (click arrows or swipe images to view slideshow):

“Red” runs through May 5, 2024 (no performance on Sunday, April 28, 2024, Friday and Saturday shows at 8 p.m., and Sunday shows at 2 p.m.

All shows take place at Kennedy Catholic High School (140 S 140th St, Burien, WA 98168).

Free parking is available. The entrance to the theater is around the back of the building. Following the signs will lead you there.

Masks are required at all performances. If you don’t have a mask, one will be provided.

$3 Off Coupon & Tickets

Save $3 by using the code “BLOG” when ordering online here.

Ticket prices range from $7 to $25. Student tickets are $5. If ticket pricing is a barrier, reach out to BAT at [email protected] – theater is for everyone!

For tickets and details, click here or call 206-242-5180 (message only).

Red is sponsored by 4Culture through the King County Lodging Tax and the City of Burien.

Kennedy Catholic is located at 140 S 140th Street, Burien, WA 98168:

Alia Sinclair is a writer residing in SeaTac. She is passionate about the arts and connecting people through the written word, and is the founder and editor-in-chief of Patchwork Mosaic magazine for creatives.