Seeing “Red”

The reviews for the Broadway production of “Red” –  which the Missus and I caught last month in previews – hit the New York dailies on Friday.

The Wall Street Journal’s Terry Teachout – a theater critic I persistently admire – didn’t much like the play. Representative sample:

Mark Rothko, the subject of John Logan’s“Red,” was a different breed of cat, one who liked to talk—a lot—about his theories of art. These, however, were fairly windy, and so is Mr. Logan’s play, in which Rothko is portrayed as a Borscht Belt blowhard (“Nature doesn’t work for me—the light’s no good”) whose bullying conceals the proverbial and all-too-predictable heart of gold. Alfred Molina, under normal circumstances a consummately fine actor, is here inexplicably reminiscent of Sgt. Bilko, while Eddie Redmayne plays his earnest young assistant with a dude-that’s-soooo-cool slacker accent, a puzzling choice for a play set in the late ’50s. As for the script, it consists of one high-art platitude after another (“To surmount the past, you must know the past”), most of them shouted by Mr. Molina. Even if the real-life Rothko talked this way, it doesn’t make for good theater, nor does it tell you much of anything about the greatness of his paintings.

The New York Times’s Ben Brantley – a theater critic I consistently agree with – did very much like the play. Representative sample:

But as much as any stage work I can think of, “Red” captures the dynamic relationship between an artist and his creations. (Only the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical “Sunday in the Park With George” comes to mind as being similarly successful.) It’s one thing to say — or to have a character say — that an artist regards his paintings as his children. But it’s another to be able to look at that artist looking at his paintings, as Mr. Molina’s Rothko does, with a fraught, fatherly anxiety and wonder.

That was our experience. Go to New York and judge for yourself.

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