Last night I went to see Red on Broadway. It’s a play by John Logan — that’s right, the same John Logan who wrote Gladiator, The Last Samauri, The Aviator and (most damningly of all) Star Trek: Nemesis — and it stars Alfred Molina as the painter Mark Rothko.
Set during the creation of a gigantic mural for the Four Seasons restaurant, the play couldn’t be further from a movie, despite its blockbuster-writing playwright. It is full of scenes were Rothko pontificates to this assistant, who barely has the right to speak, on the nature of art, the importance of challenging people rather than just entertaining them, and fighting what Rothko says is a creeping wave of mediocrity in art. Throughout the play, both characters have the sneaking suspicion that, for all his rhetoric, Rothko himself may be on the verge of obsolescence and took the Four Seasons commission out of vanity, not pure artistic purpose. It might all sound a bit pretentious, but the beauty of the play is that whenever Rothko becomes too pretentious the assistant is there to call him on it. The play also has some very striking visual moments, like the moment when the assitant turns on the overhead florescent lights and the paintings lose all of their power, and the moment where Rothko and the assistant prime and eight foot tall canvas with red primer as fast as they possibly can.
Anyway, it was a fabulous play and I loved seeing it. You can read New York Times review if you need more information.