IF YOU GO:
What: “Red,” a stage drama
Where: Blue Barn Theatre, 614 S. 11th St.
When: Tonight through Oct. 20; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 6 p.m. Oct. 7 and 14
Tickets: $25 adults, $20 students and senior citizens
Information: 402-345-1576 or online at bluebarn.org
When he looks at a painting by abstract expressionist master Mark Rothko, scenic artist Craig Lee sees more than the average observer.
“He's doing things along the way that people take for granted but are very important,” Lee said. “Preparing a canvas. Applying base colors, layer after layer — and each one is equally important to him. You don't get a sense of that, looking at the finished piece, but every step makes it what it becomes.”
There are layers to the artist as well that are gradually revealed in “Red,” the 2010 best-play Tony winner that opens tonight at the Blue Barn Theatre. The two-character show stars Jerry Longe as Rothko and Brendan Reilly as his assistant, working on a series of paintings in 1958-59 commissioned by the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City.
The play finds Rothko conflicted about creating the paintings for a commercial space, pondering who will see them and how they will see them.
“We get to step into the Rothko world and see how he cared for his art, really tended his work,” said director Susan Clement-Toberer, who last directed Longe in “Talk Radio” a couple seasons ago.
Lee, who has partially prepped half a dozen canvases in the Rothko style that are glimpsed in the wings, said the play asks interesting questions of its audience: “Do you believe in what you do, and do you find your course in life valid? Anybody who asks that question pays a price for answering it honestly, and Rothko paid that price.”
Lee and Toberer both said there's a purity in Rothko's approach to his art that they can apply to their jobs. They said a broad range of audience members can plug into that idea as well.
Though the art world was changing around him, Lee said, Rothko didn't care if anybody understood what he was doing. He was committed to his process and believed in it, Lee said.
Toberer said she finds great depth in what Rothko has to say, and pieces of his dialogue come from his own words.
“I thought if anybody could bring Rothko back to life, it would be Jerry Longe,” she said. “He's got the ability to play that volatile nature, both the passion and the tenderness and humanity that might be overlooked in this play.”
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