By John Logan

Red by John Logan
Red by John Logan

Directed by Robert Falls

At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago

Only as an aesthetic phenomenon are existence and the world justified.

There is, in this life, an order to things: a play is a hit on the London stage; the next year, it is a hit on Broadway; and then it trickles down to the Regional Theatres – in Chicago, the Goodman.  Robert Falls almost always includes last year’s hit Broadway show in the Goodman’s repertoire (see: God of Carnage).  And yet, there is a place for such things; especially in a city with a theatre scene as robust as Chicago.  After all, to see brave, new theatre, one need only go to the fringe scene in Pilsen, Wicker Park, and any number of neighborhoods.  So is it so bad having a theatre that does “The Big Play” every year?

Red by John Logan

And in this case, not only was it last year’s hit on Broadway, and the year before’s in London; it’s a tremendous piece of theatre.  And that’s what it comes down to: John Logan has written a magnificent piece, and, by God, Robert Falls has directed it deftly, and put it in the capable hands of Edward Gero and Patrick Andrews.  Indeed, all those involved deserve laud: the set, designed by Todd Rosenthal, is huge, it fills the space but not needlessly, creating a loft space in New York wonderfully; the lighting design, by Keith Parham, is magnificent, subtle, massive, and adroit.  The costumes, done by Birgit Rattenborg Wise, say a great deal about the characters and help push the story and its subtext forward.  And Richard Woodbury’s sound design also plays a critical role, the music informing us so much about the characters and their times.

Red by John Logan

Mark Rothko, acclaimed painter, has been commissioned to create murals for The Four Seasons, a restaurant opening in the first floor of the Seagram Building.  He has been paid $35,000 for his work, which will take him two years to complete.  To assist him, he has hired Ken, a young painter who hopes to learn from one of the masters of modern art.  The play is, in a way, wholly simple: it is a man set to a task, and his helper, with whom the artist develops a relationship.  It is two men on stage, talking.  But the complexity of the piece is in its characters, in its language, in this relationship we witness between the two painters.  They expound on art, history, philosophy, economics, petit bourgeois culture.  They spar about the changes of society, art, what is to come and what should be.  What Logan has done is create two immanently human characters who plumb the depths of their own humanity.  Rothko, after all, was the artist who produced paintings that were abstract yet tragic, that asked the viewer to not only consider the paintings but themselves.  His canvases in the Museum of Modern Art in New York and in the Tate Modern in London – in which hangs several of the murals painted for the Four Seasons – are breathtaking and ask the viewer to become sedentary.  They cannot be taken in at a glance, they feed the eyes and mind for hours – potentially as long as one would want to take them in.

Red by John LoganRed by John Logan

Theatre is often about something other than what the people on stage are talking about.  And Red is no exception – as Logan himself says.  The backdrop is art, but the subject is mankind, fathers and sons, mentors and protégés.  Art is the intellectual canvas on which these two characters paint their relationship.  “The son must kill the father,” Rothko tells Ken, speaking about what the Abstract Expressionists did to the Cubists.  “Respect him, but kill him.”  Rothko in turn sees Pop Art start to take hold and hates it – but it is perhaps precisely for this very reason – that is, because it is the son killing the father, who is in this case him.  Edward Gero and Patrick Andrews perform exceptionally well in this piece.  They are not afraid to let it breathe, to pause for what occasionally feels like an eternity and yet is wholly necessary and natural within its context.  They are sage enough to know that space is crucial for a piece like this.  It is exquisitely executed, technically, theatrically, spiritually.

Highly Recommended

Will Fink

Reviewed on 9.28.11

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Red page on

At the Goodman theatre, 170N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL,, tickets $25 – $89, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays  & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees on Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 1 hour, 40 minutes without intermission, through October 30, 2011


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