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Tyler Nye and Burdette Parks  Photo: Bonnie Brewer
Tyler Nye and Burdette Parks Photo: Bonnie Brewer

Theatre Review: "Red" at Pendragon Theatre

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Playwright John Logan was awarded the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League awards for "Red," his play about Rothko, when it appeared on Broadway. Mark Rothko emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1913. He was a prominent figure among New York School painters, reaching his signature style in the 1950s.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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“Red,” John Logan’s multiple award-winning play about artist Mark Rothko, is currently running at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake.  This is a strong production of an intense two character bio-drama.  It deals with the legendary Rothko’s fierce opinions about art and life and his didactic conversation.

Set in Rothko’s studio on the Bowery in the 1950s, the play follows the initiation of his new assistant Ken into Rothko’s uncompromising aesthetics.  At the time he was working on a series of murals for the Four Seasons restaurant in the new Seagram building.  Although Rothko denies being either a teacher or a mentor, he certainly sounds like one when he tells Ken, “You cannot be an artist until you’re civilized and you’re not civilized until you learn.”

The two actors both give very good performances.  Tyler Nye as Ken can be seen to grow throughout the play, both in maturity and aesthetic sensibility.  His story of his parents’ deaths is especially powerful. 

As Rothko, Burdette Parks gives a performance of intensity and sensitivity.  He also has just the right touch of a Russian dialect.  His description of dinner at the Four Seasons makes it truly barbaric.  He and Mr. Nye also play well together and have fun with their back and forth color red litany.

Designer Tijana Bjelajac has provided a splendidly messy and authentic looking artist’s studio, with areas highlighted by Sean Nicholl’s expert lighting.  Kent Streed has done his usual fine job with the costumes.

Director Kimberley Bouchard has staged and directed “Red” with a sure hand.  She’s helped her actors find the many facets of their characters and make clear the complex ideas in the play.  Her staging never allows the piece to become static.  I especially liked her frenzied staging of priming the canvas.

“Red” is a powerful play.  We come to an understanding of some of Rothko’s feelings about his art when he says, “Selling a picture is like sending a blind child into a room full of razor blades.”  This is without doubt one of the strongest productions at Pendragon over the last fourteen years.

On a scale of one to five the Pendragon Theatre production of “Red” gets four and seven-eighths pine trees.  For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.

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