Working at Boise Contemporary Theater is a dream come true for Reggie Gowland.
Its what Ive wanted to do since I decided to become an actor, Gowland says. Ive been watching plays there since I was very young. Its where I discovered theater.
Gowland, 28, now makes his home in New York City, where the acting thing is going pretty well. He understudied Amy Herzogs 4000 Miles at Lincoln Center Theater earlier this year. He was cast in its American Conservatory Theatre production in San Francisco on Herzogs recommendation.
Hes in Boise this month to work with actor Arthur Glen Hughes in John Logans Tony Award-winning play Red, a two-character study about the painter Mark Rothko, an artist of great intellectual force.
Glen is someone Ive always wanted to work with, Gowland says. And its scary to be on stage with him and I mean that in the best way. He gives you 100 percent all the time and that demands a lot in return. I have to match him.
Thats a daunting task in this play as Hughes plays Rothko, whose emotional and intellectual force in real life was overwhelming. His opinions and conversation could be brutal, and the play stays true to that history.
Red is set in 1958 as Rothko works in his New York studio on a series of paintings commissioned for the then-new Four Seasons restaurant. That commission became a turning point for the artist. His new young studio assistant, Ken, played by Gowland, comes from a different perspective that clashes with Rothkos.
Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Rothko is one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century.
He is associated with abstract expressionism, but he rejected that label. Hes most known for his large-scale canvases of colorful rectangles that seek to envelop and saturate the viewer.
The color red became a factor in Rothkos palette after he saw Matisses Red Studio in 1949, which Rothko later said was a major influence.
As Rothko worked on the Four Seasons mural commission, his frustration drove him to darker reds, maroons, browns and blacks. That palette continued to darken through the remainder of his life, until his last paintings were mostly black. Rothko committed suicide in 1970.
Red hints at that darker future as Rothkos troubled psyche is revealed.
The text of Logans play puts these two characters into conflict over their differing artistic sensibilities. They argue about philosophy Nietzsche, Freud and Jung and the history of Western painting.
Theres definitely a culture clash at work, Gowland says. Rothko takes art seriously. He says Im here to stop your heart, not to paint pretty pictures. He doesnt think artists of my generation are serious enough.
Ken, who is a fictional character, represents the group who would become the pop artists: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Rothko thinks they diminish art with their lack of substance.
Hes offended that we like everything, Gowland says.
Gowland is a true product of Boises theater community. He did his first bit of acting in an Idaho Theater for Youth class when he was in third grade.
I always liked telling stories, he says. That gave me an opportunity to trap people in a room and make them listen.
He continued taking classes at ITY and later at the Idaho Shakespeare Festivals drama program as he grew up. Gowland was one of the founding members of the Foul Puppets Improv Troupe that performed at the now-defunct Funny Bone Comedy Club.
He was an ISF apprentice before graduating from Boise High and heading to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., to major in theater.
He moved to NYC five years ago, and its funny, Ive worked with a lot of Boise people there.
Gowland did two film projects with fellow Boisean Tony Blahd. Gowland plays a cult member in Blahds Rover, a comedy about a misdirected cult leader.
Over the years and miles, he kept his connections to Boise strong, returning during the summers to help run ISFs summer apprentice program. In 2011, he was part of ISFs repertory company, playing Lucentio in the 1980s-flavored The Taming of the Shrew.
But this is his first time working at BCT.
Ive seen so many wonderful plays here, Gowland says.
One in particular, Richard Greenbergs Three Days of Rain, left a lasting impression.
If theres one show thats the reason Im an actor today, its that one, Gowland says. It was the first show I remember seeing where I had the vocabulary to understand what I was watching. And it was all about character and thats what I really love about acting.
Thats why Red is so great, he says. Yes, its about art and high-minded arguments about aesthetics, but its also about these two men trying to communicate across a generation. Thats what makes it work, he says.
Rothko is in his 50s and he doesnt understand someone in their 20s, Gowland says. Theres a lot of universality about that. I think that exact relationship is happening right now, everywhere.
In the theater lobby, check out the art auction of Rothko-inspired artwork by Boise artists Christine Raymond, Mike Landa, Michael Chambers, Anne Peterson Klahr, Troy Passey, Lisa Flowers Ross and Lauren T. Kistner. Proceeds will benefit the artists and BCT.