Randy Harrison and Bob Ari in Red
(© T Charles Erickson)
Randy Harrison and Bob Ari in Red
(© T Charles Erickson)
Midway through John Logan's Tony Award-winning drama Red, currently playing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey under Anders Cato's direction, one of the two central characters stares in front of him with all the agita and optimism of a gambler awaiting his fate at a roulette table.

The man is, however, not in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo. He's the New York City-based artist Mark Rothko (Bob Ari), the abstract expressionist painter who utilizes his sessions with apprentice Ken (Randy Harrison) to rail against those who either impoverish or ignore the power of art.

Ken, a talented artist in his own right, enters Rothko's lair in the late 1950s, when the painter was commissioned $35,000 to work on a series of paintings to adorn a Four Seasons restaurant in Philip Johnson's Seagram building. Over the course of two years, Rothko learns little about Ken (he isn't interested), though the two nonetheless establish a caustic father-confessor relationship.

Ari plays Rothko as an exasperated outcast and a man with many demons who gives his all to his art and disassociates himself from those who do not. He has in many ways, some literally, painted himself into a corner -- as Ken even points out.

While Harrison does a fine job playing audience surrogate and devil's advocate, each time Ken iterates an additional perspective, one feels he is expressing something that should remain more implicit.

The work's coup de théâtre is a silent scene, excellently executed by Cato and his two actors, in which they bathe a blank canvas in red paint in concert with one another. (Scott Killian's compositions and sound design and Dan Kotlowitz's subtle lighting design add immeasurably to the scene.) Afterward, one of them smokes a cigarette, and the other lays down, catching his breath.

It's art as metaphor for sex -- and is the creative high watermark for both the play and the production.