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Red

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The self-tortured artist is a cliché. Yet, clichés persist because lives and times reaffirm their validity.
Take Mark Rothko, for example. As depicted in John Logan’s psychological portrait, Red, the abstract impressionist painter famous in the 1950s exhibits all the classic symptoms of a stereotypical suffering genius: self-absorbed, depressed, irascible, unpredictable, raging, illogical, egocentric…etcetera. As portrayed on San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage, Rothko’s tormented soul becomes an open-book revelation, a fascinating exhibition showcasing the creator and illuminating his works a few life pages at a time.
“What do you see?” the artist asks, gazing into the space that is his latest work, hanging past the physical perimeter. There is no right answer to that question, of course, for it is only Rothko who knows, as this segment of his life tale unfolds. That the audience as voyeur is at once disturbed and enlightened, rather than confused and bored by the details of one man’s artistic angst, is due to a superb cast, impeccably directed, and an intense, but vigorous story illuminated by brilliant staging.
The story takes place in Rothko’s New York studio circa 1958-9, when the artist was working on one of his largest commissions for the Seagrams building in Manhattan. Conflicted about the commercial purpose of his Seagrams murals and their conflict with his dream of creating a spiritual chapel for his artistic statement, this artist wages war with himself but battles it with his assistant. Giulio Perrone’s massive, but credible, scenic design allows the enormous canvases that hang, lean and stack onstage to be their colossal selves, and Brian Gale’s vivid lighting lets the huge blocks of red and black pulse with the life that their creator persistently attributes to them.
John Vickery plays Rothko as intuitively as the experienced Shakespearean actor he is, with such excellent timing that even a mid-rage retort, “It’s not controlling; it’s protecting!” makes sense. Ditto the humor that punctuates the ferocious dialogue in such scenes as the quickly paced word association duel between the artist and his assistant Ken about the color, culture and nature of red. Yet that witty break of verbal master-and-apprentice contest is instantly interrupted by Rothko’s fearful, and prophetic, confession that “One day, the black will swallow the red.”
Such is the elegance of Logan’s script that such similes and metaphors of poetic dialogue transport the story seamlessly from the heights of one emotion to the depths of another. Yet this conveyance would not be possible without the intellectual and artistic elucidation given by Vickery and that of the lesser-experienced, but absolutely sincere Jason Maddy as Ken.
As Rothko’s much-maligned, but still dedicated assistant, Ken could become a foil, bullied by a figure with King-Kong ego into a slavish lesser being. Maddy fights back, growing Ken from a mere paint mixer into a representative of the new art, a crusader for his own ideas and interpretations and a symbol of the new artistic generation.
Thanks to Michael Arabian’s elegant direction, that journey of maturation belies a formulaic conception. Arabian has obvious trust in his actors, and his faith shows in letting them have at it in such large-playing scenes as the aerobic laying on of the red background for Rothko’s next painting. It is impossible not to want to join in the duo’s brush-slapping terpsichore around the garage-door sized canvas, and Vickery and Maddy sure seem to be having a great time of it.
No so much levity, though, when Ken arrives at the studio in early morning to find Rothko prostrate in front of his painting, red up to his elbows, unmoving. Although the artist is merely exhausted, probably hung-over, the scene is prescient of the actual Rothko’s suicide in 1970.
Without such active moments, this play would descend into an intellectual exercise more fitting for a musty university classroom than a vibrant theatre. This play is intellectual, an argument illuminating the mind of one artist that translates those who are not of normal passion.
And with this production, the Rep has proved that this anguished artist’s portrait is not a cliché. It is a coup.
John Logan’s Red plays at San Diego Repertory Theatre on its Lyceum stage through April 27.
Performances: Tues.-Weds. & Sun. at 7:00 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m.
Matinees Sat. & Sun. at 2:00 p.m.
Tickets are $31-$47, with discounts for groups, seniors,  and military.
Reservations: www.sdrep.org or (619) 544-1000.
 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.