ANN ARBOR — Performance Network has scored the rights to another recent Tony Award-winning play: John Logan's Red, a compelling drama which deals with a two-year period in the life of mid-20th century abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. The two person production features Mark Rademacher as the artist and Kevin Young as his young assistant, Ken.
Although the playwright bases his script on some aspects of Rothko's biography (he was, in real life, given a huge commission to paint a mural for the Four Seasons Hotel in New York), the focus remains on the relationship between the two characters.
It is to Ken that Rothko imparts his thoughts on the creation of art, who in turn has his own views, influenced by the work being done in his own generation. Rothko serves as Ken's mentor even as the ideas of the two clash. As Ken, Young delivers a nuanced performance, portraying a conflicted young man who admires Rothko while at the same time is straining to emerge from his shadow.
Rademacher, who proved highly skilled in balancing comedy and drama in the Network's production of Circle Mirror Transformation, again does some wonderful work here as Rothko. He is at times critical, demanding, and harsh with his pupil — but, as is the case with any good teacher, wishes to see him make his own mark in the world. One of the play's most poignant scenes is when he encourages Ken to do just that, signifying a passing of the torch.
Like a painting, all of the show's production elements come together to make this production both cohesive and totally effective. Carla Milarch's direction, together with Monika Essen's set and properties design, Justin Lang's lighting, and Will Meyer's sound go far in evoking the appropriate mood and emotion from the audience. Red manages to pack a lot in, considering its relatively brief running time (around 90 minutes), and it is one definitely not to be missed.
As an added bonus for audiences waiting for the show to begin or even during intermission, I recommend checking out "Red All Over: A Community Art Project," on display in the theater lobby.