RED Play Review

Neha Shende

Direction : Daniel Owen D'souza
Writer : John Logan
Cast : Vikram Kapadia, Daniel Owen Dsouza

 RED Review

Written by John Logan, RED is a quintessentially 20th century New York story: set in an Upper East Side studio in New York City, the play abounds in long conversations on the philosophy of life and art between famous 1950s painter (and Jackson Pollock contemporary) Mark Rothko and his assistant Ken. They speak about what is good art and what is commercial art, who is a worthy audience and a worthy critic and through their conversations, revelations are made about the mind of the artist and the perennial fear of becoming irrelevant; a slice of life piece from 50s New York, and oxymoronically, an extremely cinematic play.

Rothko (played by Vikram Kapadia) has been commissioned by the posh Four Seasons Hotel to make paintings for one of their restaurants and he has decided to send them works in his patent colour field style - rectangular patches of color filling the entire frame - this time red - meant to evoke contemplation in the viewer through the supposedly dynamic nature of these series of paintings. He takes on a young artist, Ken (Daniel Owen D'souza), as his assistant. The play is their journey over a couple of years discussing art and the artist.

Rothko is a bitter, temperamental artist whose greatest fear is that the red in his life - all things alive and exciting and romantic - will be taken over by black - death and irrelevance. This significance of the colour red is, of course, where the play also derives its name from. Kapadia brings alive the ageing artist, his temper tantrums, his disdain toward young artists and his fears masked under a veil of self importance. Kapadia's roots in English theatre allow him to carry on lengthy, erudite arguments with Ken, delivering slightly archaic lines with naturalness.

The lanky D'souza is apt as the bright, young assistant, calm and unintimidated in the face of Rothko's aggression and artistic genius. Rothko makes it clear during the hiring interview itself: Ken shouldn't mistake him for his mentor, friend, or a father figure and that he is purely Ken's employer. Unsurprisingly, those are exactly all the things Rothko becomes to Ken over the course of two years. The constant back and forth between Kapadia and D'souza is enjoyable because of the easy chemistry the actors share, and the amusing old-married-couple style bickering.

The production design by Viraj Sushi Karnik and D'souza, lighting by Gurleen Judge and the music of the play deserve a special mention. Frames hung all over, cans of paint poured into buckets to create the perfect shade, large canvases pinned on the stage wall, specific yellow lighting, the Western classical music in the background, all help not just in bringing alive Rothko's studio, but also in heightening an immense sense of drama. In one scene, the characters paint a full canvas red on stage, with Rothko's favorite classical music providing the background score. Them painting together is not just an expression of their synergy but also a sort of graduation for Ken - from assistant to partner.

The play is a great watch for those who enjoy character-driven plays, and for those hoping to get a hit of some 50s New York-style nostalgia.

*Neha Shende is an avid theatre-goer and enjoys watching old Bollywood movies in her free time.

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