Award-winning play RED will be back on stage for the final time at the CCP! Next year’s show dates are 31 January, 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 February 2014. RED is open for block sales and show buying. For details, PM or call The Necessary Theatre at 0917 817 0463.
If you are looking for a feel-good stage production that you can mindlessly enjoy; this is not for you. But in exchange of that usual light-hearted takeaway,Red offers a compelling and mind-stirring starting point to contemplate about art. It provides its audience with a generous serving of intellectual and timely insights on art, the artist and art appreciation.
Red is written by playwright and screenwriter John Logan and follows abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko with his assistant Ken as they create a series of paintings for the highly exclusive Four Seasons restaurant. It is a brave, intelligent piece that transcends its temporal setting. While it is set in the 1950’s, the arguments and rebuttals raised within the character’s heated exchanges still resonate the realities of art appreciation – or lack thereof – today.
The material is mostly cerebral, and may be considered as highfalutin by some audience members. After all, it tends to alienate when the names of Jung, Nietzsche and Freud are casually dropped into the conversation. But it is not pretentious or overly ambitious. Red is one of those rare moments when the intellectual level of the material is perfectly justified by the message that it seeks to send.
Bart Guingona, who stars as well as Rothko, captains the production as director. He successfully mixes the right elements together and paints a quasi-tragic picture of an artist, his work and the relationship between two characters. It is not an easy feat, especially for a play. While musicals have the advantage of having songs to fuel the narrative with energy, plays have the tendency to go flat. Luckily, this staging of Red remains engaging with the material’s well-written script coupled with its clever and dedicated execution.
Red’s two-person cast never felt lacking. It’s rare to see how two actors can effectively fill up the entire stage with their performance. They communicate even in their silence. Guingona’s Rothko is rich with flair, passion and intensity. His condescending disgust is evident and the relentless anger is felt. Joaquin Valdez, considering his towering physique, may initially be deemed to be miscast as the assistant to Guingona’s supposedly terror boss. But all of these impressions falter when he successfully showcases the evolution of Ken from the reserved, yes-man assistant to a full grown man with a backbone who bravely stands up to Rothko with his intelligent comebacks. Together, they create a powerful tandem on stage; their chemistry shines through. While Red is primarily a showcase on the necessary discourses about art, it is also about the growing relationship between Rothko and Ken. When Ken was first hired, Rothko declared that he will not be anything more than just a boss to the young man. As the story progresses, we see that they have fostered an affecting and poignant teacher-student or even a father-son relationship – regardless of how Rothko continues to deny or resist it. Valdez and Guingona’s performances successfully add this human dimension to the story.
The stage design creates a visually captivating brand of chaos encapsulated in Rothko’s rather chaotic studio. It becomes an effective character in itself as it portrays the claustrophobic world and work of Rothko, as well as a testament to the characterization of the artists on stage. It also provides a concrete backdrop and visual justification when Rothko later sheds his angry façade and discloses his tough brand of compassion.
The emergence and rise of accessible technology has practically showered today’s audiences with mostly mind-numbing artistic and cultural products. Popular media have practically brainwashed us into thinking that beauty and feeling good should be the paramount of valuation in the artistic hierarchy. In the process, we sometimes forget that even grit and lack of comfort can be more compelling and affecting than our usual cheesy, popcorn media products. Red tries to widen the audience’s perspective by demolishing this fallacy in art appreciation: just because it’s not pretty doesn’t necessarily mean it should be avoided, hidden or completely forgotten. And on top of this, it offers hope and optimism on the evolving canons of art and the way we should learn to see the value of the past, current and emerging frameworks.
Somewhere in their passionate exchanges, Rothko angrily yells to Ken, “I am here to make you think; not paint pretty pictures.” This may be an appropriate description of the play’s intent. Yes, it might not be a good idea for a restful nightcap or a date night. But it teaches us something important about art and the human psyche that many should experience, listen to and learn from. It is such a shame that it has only returned for a limited two-night engagement. A lot could probably benefit from seeing this piece of bravery; perhaps we can even consider this as an act of brilliant rebellion. And we all know that there is something potent from anything that tries to stray away from the norm.