RED, the Mark Rothko Play on Broadway

Last night we were transfixed by actors Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne, on stage for 90 minutes without intermission in a brilliant five-scene play called RED by John Logan and directed by Michael Grandage. RED covers a two-year period in abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko's life when he was working in a NYC studio, down on Bowery. His studio is recreated in a bare-bones, warehouse/loft stage set that hummed with industrial lighting, paint splashes, and a thrilling minimalism/realism not usually found in a Broadway show.

What resonated for the Design2Share editors viewing this British production by Donmar Warehouse was the vibrant commentary on art in life, art and commercialism, art in decorating (more on that), and the changing styles and schools of art. Rothko loved to boast that he and his contemporaries smashed cubism, but a wave of pop artists like Stella, Warhol, and Lichtenstein arguably smashed Rothko's brand of abstract expressionism.

Rothko decried the idea of his art being an "over-mantle," meaning a part of interior decoration for the rich, with paintings hung above fireplace mantles to show off an artist investment as an acquisition, because So-and-So is worth collecting, or because "I've just got to have a painting with orange in it to go with my sofa." He wanted his art to be hung in sacred spaces he controlled so that the viewer could spend time reflecting, getting absorbed by his work, and using it as a portal to deeper truth.

We often discuss the role of art in interior design here at D2S, so this was an exciting opportunity to hear a play discuss the inner feelings of an artist and his work. It was difficult for Rothko to share his so-called "great art" with the masses, in either a residential or commercial setting (the play focused on Rothko's commissioned mural work for the Four Seasons Restaurant in NYC's Seagram Building). In the end, we may still look for that "orange painting" that will look great over the mantle, but RED challenges us to look further and connect with art in a deep, personal way.  

Our advice: buy art that you love, that you'd love to live with everyday, and that moves you deeply. See if you can connect with the artist's vision for her or his work. And use art to go somewhere elemental so that you can discover new truths about yourself and the world. (And let's be practical, too. You may also love that the colors go with your decorating scheme so well.) RED is a rare play that really got us thinking about art and artists. Here's a short documentary that gives you a look at the stage experience we just saw.

Jay JohnsonComment