Review roundup of Red, Broadway play about painter Mark Rothko
“Red,” a two-character play starring Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne that opened on April 1st at the Golden Theater about celebrated, difficult New York painter Mark Rothko, who committed suicide 40 years ago, receives favorable notice from most New York theater critics, with a few notable exceptions. The play shows him and his assistant over a two year period debating art and creating the murals for a commission that is described as the flashiest mural since the Sistine Chapel.
Here are excerpts from some of the reviews:
Jonathan Mandell, The Faster Times: “It is not essential to know or like much about modern art, or Rothko’s place in it, in order to appreciate â€œRedâ€ for its forceful acting and its vivid, rich, rhythmic language…For all its erudite references, it is a play of surfaces. But of course Rothko’s paintings were all about surfaces too. Like a Rothko painting, â€œRedâ€ depends to a degree on what the viewer brings to it; in the right light, with the right attitude, â€œRed,â€ like a Rothko, seems to glow.
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ” Mr. Redmayne, who last month won the Olivier Award (the British version of the Tony) for his performance, keeps his character from ever seeming like a mere device. His Ken has a spine and a mind of his own, and you can feel both growing stronger throughout the play. That he is able to hold his own against Mr. Molina’s Rothko is no mean achievement. In his strongest Broadway performance to date, the dauntless Mr. Molina embraces the artist’s egotism unconditionally, and he makes us feel the necessity of an overweening, humorless vanity and – to use a word that for Rothko denotes a cardinal virtue – seriousness. ”
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: ” Red looks great, and Molina and Redmayne give superb performances. But the play never takes off because it flatters its audience’s intellect instead of challenging it. Blathering about art doesn’t automatically result in art — or entertainment, for that matter.”
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: “It’s a lot to compete with, visually, but the players aren’t overshadowed. Ultimately, it’s Molina who gives this Red its intensity, and its bright, aching finish.”
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Red may be all talk and no action — but what talk! Scribe John Logan sends American abstract impressionist painter Mark Rothko into battle with his demons in this electrifying play of ideas, and the artist’s howls are pure music. Alfred Molina is majestic as Rothko, defying the future he reads in the face of Eddie Redmayne, who holds his own as Rothko’s young assistant. Although Michael Grandage’s muscular production was trucked in from the Donmar Warehouse, where it preemed last year and was nommed for three Olivier Awards, the show feels as if it’s come home to Broadway.
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: “Rothko stated that he was interested in “expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on” in his work. In five scenes and 90 minutes, Logan’s vivid play manages the same strokes.”
Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: “There’s a little too much talk of how paintings ‘pulse’ – though Donald Holder’s lighting simulates the effect magically – and a few of the assistant’s background details seem unnecessarily maudlin. No doubt these were inserted to give his character depth, so he’d be more than just Rothko’s sounding board. While the role may not be as well-drawn as Rothko’s, Redmayne certainly knows what to do with it. But what would any work about a tortured artist be without a few rough patches? Art, as Steven Sondheim wrote in Sunday in the Park With George, isn’t easy. A-” Note: The lighting designer is actually Neil Austin. Bernardo got that wrong.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: “Mark Rothko, the subject of John Logan’s Red, was a different breed of cat, one who liked to talk-a lot-about his theories of art. These, however, were fairly windy, and so is Mr. Logan’s play, in which Rothko is portrayed as a Borscht Belt blowhard (“Nature doesn’t work for me-the light’s no good”) whose bullying conceals the proverbial and all-too-predictable heart of gold. Alfred Molina, under normal circumstances a consummately fine actor, is here inexplicably reminiscent of Sgt. Bilko, while Eddie Redmayne plays his earnest young assistant with a dude-that’s-soooo-cool slacker accent, a puzzling choice for a play set in the late ’50s. As for the script, it consists of one high-art platitude after another (“To surmount the past, you must know the past”), most of them shouted by Mr. Molina. Even if the real-life Rothko talked this way, it doesn’t make for good theater, nor does it tell you much of anything about the greatness of his paintings.”
John Simon, Bloomberg News: “Finally a truly intelligent play on Broadway: American writer John Logan’s Red, in a production from London’s Donmar Warehouse, with two superb English actors, Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, briskly directed by artistic director, Michael Grandage. ”
Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press: “The production, under the immaculate, tightly focused direction of Michael Grandage, comes from London’s Donmar Warehouse, where Grandage is artistic director. Grandage allows Rothko’s barbed, brutish yet often insightful comments on art to unfold with a theatrical flair that educates as well as entertains. After experiencing Red,
“What do you see?” is a question audiences will be able to answer with enormous satisfaction.”
Franck Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: “Bottom Line: Superb performances enliven this fascinating drama about famed abstract expressionist Mark Rothko.”
Erik Haagensen, Backstage: “There’s barely a clichÃ© left unturned in John Logan’s Red, a two-hander about the late-in-life creative struggles of artist Mark Rothko, arriving direct from London’s Donmar Warehouse. Though it’s served to a hi-fi fare-thee-well by director Michael Grandage and actors Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne (who won an Olivier Award for his supporting performance), all their efforts can’t disguise the fact that this is a prime example of theater of the exclamation point.”
Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: “A new bio drama regarding modern art master Mark Rothko, Red is smartly crafted, strikingly staged and beautifully designed. Yet for all of its excellence, the Donmar Warehouse import from London which opened Thursday at the Golden Theatre lacks the sizzle one usually expects to enjoy in a hot Broadway drama. Alfred Molina portrays Rothko with brooding urgency but never rages quite as mightily as might be hoped.”
Linda Winer, Newsday: “TFor a while into Red, the 90-minute London import about Mark Rothko (the marvelous Alfred Molina) and a young apprentice (Eddie Redmayne), it seems playwright John Logan is careening into the gossip-and-grandiosity rut of art-bio presumption. But suddenly, as the men prime an enormous canvas and themselves in a frenzied bacchanalia of red paint, the grips of Rothko’s art and Michael Grandage’s visceral production close in and refuse to let go. By the time Rothko, the brainy and difficult American abstract expressionist, declares his massive “pulsing” color-field work is “here to stop your heart,” the paintings throb at us as if they actually might..”