Theatre review: Red
Sean Smith reviews Alkinos Tsilimidos' latest theatre production Red.
I believe I may have levitated out of the MTC theatre following the opening night performance of Red. Likewise, if my train carriage was engulfed in flames as I travelled home, I can't remember it bothering me.
Such was the effect of Red.
Alkinos Tsilimidos' seething production aroused breakout applause from the audience throughout its ninety minutes of unerring intensity. Some of the monologues were powerful enough to elicit a response from inanimate objects let alone any reticent or jaded theatregoers. Of which there were none by the play's end.
If language is the material that determines how we perceive reality, then writer John Logan's words seem - and certainly sound - flawlessly selected in Red. They impart such might as to render the term 'tour de force' significantly underdone.
Red explores a two-year period in Mark Rothko's life when the painter was tormented by the allure of commercial security (Rothko disdained the rich) and the suspicion that his work, and the relevance of his volatile intelligence, was being made redundant through the emergence of a succeeding generation of artists.
Rothko, played by Colin Friels, undertakes an assistant in Ken (actor Andre de Vanny) when he is commissioned to paint a set of abstracts to be hung in the upper dining hall for the esteemed Four Seasons restaurant being built in Manhattan.
The actors' performances were, quite simply, possessed. Friels' recent criticism of the Hollywood vacuum and his declaration that artists should "have the dignity to say 'I don't care what anyone else in the world thinks,'" puts him in exactly the right headspace required for a beast like Rothko. And de Vanny is uncannily cast as Rothko's assistant Ken, a character with his own bloody history. De Vanny managed to measure the release of his performance against Friels brilliance in such an expert way that his 'relevance' monologue had the audience completely transported at the peak of his character's delivery.
Rothko's attachment to Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, which explores the dichotomy of the Dionysian and Apollonian forms, drives crunching turbulences and heart-squeezing visions into the human condition throughout Red. The interaction of Rothko and Ken embody both the liquid chaos of Dionysus and the majestic order of Apollo.
Artists' interpreting a text about an artist can be perilous (much like great artist's dispositions) but Red is the theatre equivalent of a Rothko masterpiece.
It rages that we understand the impermanence of the blood we carry in our veins and the importance of the vigour it provides us with: why accept 'nice' when what you may need to do is be furious?
When blood dries we are left with solemn black. Red is a play about the colour that keeps us alive.
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