Canadian Stage's sensational production of Red follows Mark Rothko as he struggles to fulfill a commission that created the ultimate conditions for a prodding public assessment of his work.
"You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting" - Paraphrased from the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel
Sending paintings out into the world is dangerous. It creates an opportunity to be weighed – as an artist and as a person. Asked to create murals for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York's new Seagram Building, Rothko finds himself tortured by the idea that his work will be insignificant, trendy, or just an expensive "over-mantle."
Rothko's work must be understood in the context of World War II – the Holocaust, concentration camps, littered battlefields, and ultimately, the atomic bomb. In the wake of these atrocities, Rothko found the vocabulary of figurative painting too limited to express the realities of human experience. Drawn from the safe harbour of temporal representation into abstraction, Rothko invites the viewer to experience his work on a personal level, to form an emotional connection with his painting. To create the climate necessary for this private reaction, Rothko offered little explanation of his work commenting that, "[s]ilence is so accurate." The noise of explanation leads to the addiction of popular thought.
Jim Mezon's portrayal of the arrogant and brilliant Apollonian Rothko is stunning. At once sympathetic and curious, the audience instantly wants Rothko to succeed, to create something remarkable; they want to stand as witnesses to Rothko's creation simply by virtue of their ticket purchase. In giving his performance, Mezon is measured, beautifully drifting between the highs and lows his character experiences throughout the creative process. He is mature, able to create a character that seems to have weathered all that Rothko did from World War II through the height of McCarthyism. He is emotional, convincingly conveying the pressure to create something meaningful, something excellent, something moving. Most importantly, Mezon is exciting. It's a privilege to see this performance.
Rothko's assistant, Ken, played by David Coomber serves as the perfect foil for Rothko's rhetoric, his drama. Vulnerable and idealistic, Ken's innocence provides a direct counter-weight to Rothko's experience. However dissimilar the two characters, together they find a kind of harmony. Coomber's performance, in parts tentative, is extremely honest. In a highly-charged, emotional play, it would be easy to succumb to the temptation of over-dramatizing certain moments; Coomber doesn't. He is excellent.
Director Kim Collier and Set, Properties and Costume Designer David Boechler create the perfect canvass on which Mezon and Coomber paint their characters. The show moves fluidly throughout; there are no stagnant sections. Rothko's studio looks deliciously lived in. The characters move comfortably in the space, so much so that the audience forgets it's a theatre and thinks of it only as a studio. Clearly, sensitive and insightful creative forces laid the foundation for this fantastic show.
Together with their creative support, Mezon and Coomber offer an unforgettable theatrical experience. Every committed theater-goer attends a play expectant, hoping to see a show of this calibre. Good news – it's here, and it's called Red. Don't miss it.
Red runs from November 19th to December 17th
Run time: One Act; approximately 100 minutes (no intermission).
Tickets available online at: www.canadianstage.com/Online
Bluma Appel Theatre
St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts
27 Front St. East, Toronto ON M5E 1B4
Written by Jenn Hood
Jenn Hood loves theatre. She has acted in shows including Ghosts (Henrick Ibsen), Coriolanus (William Shakespeare), Merchant of Venice (William Shakespeare), All in the Timing (David Ives) and Death (Woody Allen). As a long-time theatre reviewer for Spotlight, Jenn is thrilled to be a part of the dynamic Toronto theatre scene. Recently she has begun writing joint reviews with her father, Richard Hood, which often require (in the best way) a large glass of wine.