Saturday, April 10, 2010

Broadway Theater Review: Red

Play about Abstract Artist Leaves an Impression
By Lauren Yarger
If you’ve ever gazed at an abstract painting and thought “there must be more to this,” you’re right and in the case of a series of murals commissioned by the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building on New York's Park Avenue from master abstract impressionist Mark Rothko, there’s a whole play more to them.

It’s playwright John Logan’s Red, which stars Alfred Molina as the self-absorbed painter and Eddie Redmayne as his assistant, Ken.

Set in 1958, Rothko receives what was then the world’s largest commission to paint the murals, in part recreated here in a studio set designed by Christopher Oram, terrifically brought to life by Neil Austin’s lighting.

Molina and Redmayne, who created the roles for the show produced by the Donmar Warehouse in London, are directed by Michael Grandage and give solid performances. Rothko is brooding, pondering everything from Nietzsche and classical music to divine guidance as he creates his paintings. In fact, he sits on stage for 20 minutes prior to the curtain just studying one of his creations.

Ken, an aspiring painter himself, at first is thrilled to be working with someone of Rothko’s reputation and is happy mixing paints, stretching canvas and sometimes being given the privilege of helping to apply the undercoat for a painting. Rothko continually challenges him to see more than just red or any other shade on the canvas as just a color. The master is more interested that he "feel" the colors.

One of the most memorable scenes is of the two men applying red primer to a canvas, wielding their brushes and moving alongside, around and over each other almost in a creative ballet while music plays on the phonograph (Adam Cork, composer and sound designer).

The hero worship wears off, however, and after two years, Ken finally sees red, if you will, and unleashes his frustrations on the uncaring mentor, who barely has taken the time to show and interest in anything the assistant does outside of the studio. Is he married? How are his paintings coming along? How has he coped with having witnessed the murder of his parents as a young boy?

These aren’t questions Rothko has asked because he increasingly withdraws into the dark shadows of his studio, away from people, away from the commercialism of the art business and its new and upcoming competitors and away from natural light which he finds so offensive. He doesn’t want to be a mentor or father figure for the young artist. And, he finally realizes, he doesn’t even want his beloved paintings hanging in the posh restaurant where New York’s wealthy wheel and deal.

There’s a lot of interesting history here about Rothko and those paintings (which never do make their way to the Four Seasons) and some fine acting in the interactions between the two characters. Logan’s Red is a lot like an abstract piece of art that you look at for a while only to find its image keeps reappearing in your memory and has made a lasting impression long after you've left.

Red plays at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC through June 27. Discounted tickets are available to friends of Masterwork productions by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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