The eternal cycles grind on, generations pass away ... and theres another Chinese (restaurant) around the corner, declares Mark Rothko in John Logans Red, a didactic exercise of art, philosophy and life, which opened Saturday at Boise Contemporary Theater.
Rothko (Arthur Glen Hughes) and his generation of abstract expressionists killed the cubist movement of Picasso and Braque. Now, Rothko faces this same fate at the hands of time and the pop art movement of Warhol and Rauschenberg.
The Tony Award-winning play is set in 1958 at a turning point in Rothkos career the two years he works on a commission for murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the newly built Seagrams Building in New York City. Logan gives him a fictional studio assistant Ken (Reggie Gowland) as his aesthetic foil. Of course, Ken has his own secret past that must be explored, also infused with the color red.
The title comes from Rothkos use of the color in his most iconic works.
Both Hughes and Gowland bring dynamic performance to this two character bio-drama directed by BCT producing artistic director Matthew Cameron Clark.
They argue about Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in art, commercialism vs. purity of purpose, public taste, the changing aesthetics of their time and, of course, Rothko, the artist now a noun.
And though its all highly esoteric on the surface, its arguments become poignantly meaningful today as they go on. (Were a smirking nation living under a tyranny of fine, Rothko says. What would he think of a Facebook Like button?)
Hughes nails Rothko a man known for his savage opinions and uncompromising aesthetic. Hughes is a train racing down the track heading for a edge of a cliff, railing against Kens naivete, pushing for answers that go beyond nice or good.
In the end, Gowlands Ken is an able match for Hughes formidable sea of anger and intellect. Gowland also brings a sweet quirkiness to the proceedings.
This play was a great choice for Clark to direct. Himself the son of an abstract painter, Anne Peterson Klahr, he keeps this discussion familiar and present. He brings all the production elements together artfully.
Star Moxleys costumes hit the time period perfectly with an elegant comfort.
Peter John Stills sound design underscores the play with Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Glass music filled with the tension between classical form and romantic expression.
Michael Baltzells beautiful, spacious studio of a set is smeared with red paint on white benches. The floor is littered with red drops. A beautiful array of spent rags, empty paint cans, brushes and more artifacts collected by props master Bernie Cockey create spots of interest around the set.
But the best visuals come from the large reproductions of Rothkos actual Four Seasons mural panels that illustrate the dialogue. Red and more red, punctuated with dark reds, browns, maroons and blacks they glow, they pulse and appear alive under Raquel Davis vibrant lighting.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland