Went to a play last night called RED. It is a semi-fictional tale about the painter Mark Rothko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Rothko) and an unnamed assistant who works with him for two years while Rothko is completing a collection of paintings intended to hang in the Four Seasons restaurant. Yes, this is a 90 minute play with two characters who discuss abstract expressionistic art. Some folks might suppose this was not up my alley. Some folks would be ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.
My father-in-law expressed the opinion that it was going to be nothing but pretentious garbage about what “art” is and the like. Let me tell you, the first two thirds of this play were exactly that. The assistant is introduced when he walks in for his first day, and is stopped at the doorway for a few seconds while Rothko observes his current work (http://artobserved.com/artimages/2010/03/Mark-Rothko-Black-on-Maroon-Mural-Section-3-1959-The-Seagram-Murals-.jpg). A couple of seconds pass, and then Rothko gestures him in, and gives him the run down on what it means to work here. In short, Rothko is kind of a dick.
The next hour unfolds as we watch Rothko berate his assistant about “not really knowing art” and getting mad at stuff for no reason other than he is a disturbed asshole. The assistant seems pretty upbeat through most of it, though there is a completely unnecessary side story about how the assistant’s parents were murdered that attempts to inject sympathy and pathos into the tale but fails miserably. At this point I noticed my father-in-law looking at his watch and attempting to summon the courage to walk out of the place. I would have been right behind him.
Suddenly, there is a solid 15 minute scene where the assistant finally snaps (after Rothko insults artists in the style of pop art, like Andy Warhol and his contemporaries) and calls Rothko, in a beautifully crafted rant, an old irrelevant pretentious sellout. I was fucking STUNNED. First, this was a high quality rant in and of itself and second, it encapsulated all my thoughts about the character of Rothko better than I could have myself. The play only has 15 minutes to go, and the tale is wrapped up with Rothko refusing to sell the paintings to the Four Seasons and firing the assistant to go “find his own place in the world”, for...uh...reasons. I was still in shock from the rant.
The acting was pretty good, though the actors were essentially just doing the best with what they had. Overall, I give it 1 smiley face on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces. I really didn’t like the play much at all, but that rant at the 60 minute mark was really, really well done. I also kind of like the paintings they displayed, even though I normally dislike abstract art. And hey, it gave me something to talk about!