The blood of angry men, the color of desire, a sunset; so many things that a simple color can represent. It pulsates and lives when being viewed, but is that life still within the art when it is alone in the darkness without the eye of the beholder to animate it? The captivating, moving drama, winner of six Tony Awards, Red comes to Everyman Theatre as the second show in their 2013/2014 season. Directed by Donald Hicken, (with scenic design by Resident Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger, lighting design by Nancy Schertler, costume design by David Burdick, and sound design by Neil McFadden) this compelling drama goes deeper than the esoteric subject nature would lead you to believe; delving into the humanity behind the artists in ways unimaginable. A poignant examination of human life through the lens of art, this stellar production is evocative and moving.
Emotional immersion is the world of this production; drawing the audience into the world of Rothko— his vision, his anger, his passion, his insecurities and vulnerabilities. Director Donald Hicken delves into this myriad of colorful experiences full throttle; exposing the audience not only to Rothko as he sees himself but to how the world views him, through the lens of his curious apprentice. Hicken transforms Logan’s work the way Rothko transforms his paintings, one layer at a time; applying coat after coat of emotional expression, physical exasperation, and moments of sheer artistic brilliance for all to experience.
Hicken inspires an unconventional chemistry between Rothko and his apprentice, Ken; truly making the provocative masterpiece in this production their unique relationship. His focus on the nuances of living in the moment verses living for the future are striking; mirroring the differences between Rothko’s style and that of his apprentice. The contrasts in their existences are as striking as red and black; extremely well delivered and displayed.
Everyman company member Eric Berryman takes on the role of Ken – the apprentice with a refreshing approach to the character. Creating a versatile portrait out of his character that shifts and undulates as the play progresses, Berryman starts off like a student very much eager to learn all that can be taught from the teacher. His expressions and focused silence absorb it all, the rambling, the barking, the unending speeches. Berryman transforms this into something vibrant; each moment of discovery as he unearths a little more about Rothko a bright new experience that he shares willingly with the audience without ever letting us know he’s sharing it.
It’s Berryman’s highly visual use of language that helps the audience form a connection with his character. When he first starts plucking meanings out of the color white, and later in the color of the show’s title, he paints vivid emotions that morph into stunning imagery with the way he speaks. Berryman also finds the balance of beauty in his arguments against Rothko (Bruce Randolph Nelson). He holds his own against Nelson’s tirades, barking right back at him with a vehement certainty that grounds his character in the current reality of his world.
Nelson and Berryman do an exceptional job of keeping the play lively and moving; reaching out on a deeper level to truly connect with the audience, bringing the problems of their world to an accessible level. Their banter exists in a swirl of order and chaos, racing back and forth between them no one person holding either state more than the other. They fully embody the notion of emotion verses intelligence and spark with vivacity at one another; driving home their point until someone yields. There are moments of silence shared between the pair that speak volumes just as loudly as their shouting matches; the mark of a sensational performance.
Nelson, also an Everyman company member, illuminates the character of Rothko from within, radiating his own effulgence into the character in such a way that he is reinvented. We are exposed to not only Rothko the painter, but Rothko the human being; the irony therein being that Rothko is constantly pleading for Ken (and everyone) to be a human being for once in their life when considering and viewing his art. Nelson unearths a rare vulnerability in this character, shown only in glimpses and streaks, in the subtlest of fashions that make him fragile, sensitive and exposed. Beneath the blustering, bellowing exterior of a hardened artist who is layered so thick with pretention that you can’t see beyond it is a soft, frightened formative man and Nelson’s ability to draw that out in the character is phenomenal.
There is a multitude of emotional variance in Nelson’s performance, each moment more poignant than the last as he builds this dynamic character, as Rothko would a painting. Arrogance and narcissism seep into his voice when he rants, but desperation and fear can just as easily be found in quieter moments. There are even hints of superbly timed comedy that ring true in Nelson’s performance; a stunning revelation to the work as a whole.
Berryman and Nelson make the perfect team for this dynamic production; each discovering within the other how to push the boundaries of their characters’ relationships, revealing humanity and art blended as one.
Everyman Theatre’s Red is the must-see show of the autumn season. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see art living and breathing at its finest.
Running Time: Approximately One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.