Geva’s Red is Riveting…and Revealing

The Tony Award-winning play Red, by John Logan and directed by Skip Greer, opened last week at Geva Theatre Center.

Seeing Red is like viewing a Rothko painting: the longer you watch, the more you are drawn in.

The play focuses on the career and life of artist Mark Rothko, played with thoughtful and fierce brilliance, by Stephen Caffrey.  From the moment the lights come up  on his beautifully-designed studio, Caffrey’s Rothko is a complex man, layered with vibrant shades of intellect and creativity, as well as with dark emotions.

As the play opens, we find Ken, played by John Ford-Dunker, showing up at Rothko’s studio for the first time. As if creating his own work of art over the course of the play, Ford-Dunker develops the character of Ken from the almost “blank canvas” of a man who initially enters the studio, into one who has been shaped by Rothko, to become a man of substance and intellect. Ken finally takes up the gauntlet Rothko has thrown down many times over the course of two years, to challenge the master into becoming more than the “solipsistic,” bullying, self-absorbed intellectual he manifests.

Stephen Caffrey and John Ford-Dunker in RED. Photo by Ken Huth.

Logan’s characters paint a picture of the many questions, conflicts and internal demons with which artists wrestle….Why does an artist create? At what point does work cease to be art and become commerce? And when art transforms into commerce, does the art and artist lose integrity? Once a work is given birth, can anyone else ever really understand and appreciate the artist’s “child?” Does an artist’s creative work somehow absolve mortality of its power?

In what, for me, was one stunningly beautiful moment of theater, the two characters start the music, start the count, then work frantically to lay down a foundation of red on an enormous blank canvas, as if, by working quickly enough, they can overcome the empty patches of canvas in their own lives.

Rothko, who ultimately took his own life, was an intellectual who continually worried that “the black” would “swallow the red,” or that a metaphysical/spiritual death would overcome his passion, so Red is a beautifully-directed, thought-provoking journey into the passions and darkness of an artist’s soul.

Red can be seen at Geva Theatre Center, located at 75 Woodbury Blvd. in Rochester, through November 15. Due to adult themes and language, it is best for ages 14 and up. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Top/featured photo: Stephen Caffrey and John Ford-Dunker in RED. Photo by Colin Huth.