Mark Rothko's 1970 suicide was painless compared to his struggles in life. Colorado Springs will get to spend a few evenings contemplating this fact inside TheatreWorks' production of Red, John Logan's 2010 Tony Award-winning play. Directed by Joseph Discher, the semi-biographical, two-man play follows the abstract expressionist artist and his fictional assistant Ken in the studio in 1958 and 1959.
Having been commissioned to paint a series of murals for the Four Seasons, Rothko and Ken begin an intense journey into the heart of the artist's passions and drive. In real life, Rothko struggled for over a year with the job, creating 40 pieces that blazed new trails in his oeuvre, which had already helped define contemporary post-war art in the U.S. In 2012, Rothko's "Orange, Red, Yellow" sold at auction for over $86.9 million.
Portraying Rothko is Joel Leffert, who played the character before at the Public Theatre in Lewiston, Maine. Leffert has appeared on Broadway and at the National Theatre in London in the premiere of Tennessee Williams' Not About Nightingales, reports Lewiston's Sun Journal.
Ken, played by Jordan Coughtry, is his foil and the audience's main translator of Rothko's harsh, yet beautiful, artistic insanity. Coughtry says his character begins with a practical approach to art, and Rothko alters this immensely through his elitist intellectual style.
"There is a vast depth in his art and choice of color," Coughtry says. "He asks me several times, 'What do I see, looking at a painting?' and my answers to that question deepen and extend throughout the play. He shows me the importance of the color choices that he makes."
The art recreated onstage is representative of Rothko's more mature work, characterized by a stark background base color with swatches of complementary colors laid over the top. These hues are never quite unified and blended with the background.
"We are constantly shifting, changing and growing," Coughtry says. "We cannot be simplified. We resist this simplification when we figure it all out. But have we missed the point? This is something Rothko points out to Ken all the time."